For this installment of book club I am happy to introduce The Coming Plague: Newly Emerging Diseases in a World out of Balance by Laurie Garret.
Written in 1994, this is an impressively well researched work on the current microbiological topics of the time. While this book is almost 20 years old, I was very impressed by how many of our current problems in health care were covered in these 620 pages and how well the content has held up to the passage of time.
What is even more impressive is how the author narrates the stories, giving a more human side to the factual recounting of disease outbreaks that most of us in the microbiology community are familiar with.
This book is arranged so that each chapter covers a specific disease or theme. Notable chapters on exotic pathogens include those on Bolivian Hemorrhagic fever, the Ebola virus, Lassa fever, the Legionnaires’ disease outbreak in 1976, and the Hantavirus outbreak in the 4 corners region of the United States. These are all fascinating chapters as many of the people who were present for these events were interviewed and there is a real sense of the fear and confusion that accompanies the outbreak of unknown diseases.
These chapters also show “disease cowboys” in action during these outbreaks, scrambling to find out the causative agent or vector for these diseases. As someone who has just learned how to work in a Biosafety level 3 lab I can only imagine the difficulty involved in doing any kind or research in the field, let alone in with diseases that are known to be highly lethal.
The author does an excellent job of showing how environmental, social, and political factors drive the emergence of disease in human population. No other chapter covers this intersection quite as well as well as her work on the early years of the HIV epidemic. With 30 years separating me from this period in time it is easy to not think about how we got to where we are today with HIV; during my life it has always been here. It was eye-opening to see just how badly the epidemic was handled by politicians of the day or how distinguished scientists could fight so readily over discoveries relating to this new viral plague.
Overall, I highly recommend this book to anyone looking for a more in-depth and extremely well written take on the challenges we face against the invisible armies of microbes that continually surround us.