Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Feeling Inspired

Hello Old Friends!

I just read an article in the New York Times and thought of you all, so I thought I'd post it, even though no one is actually reading this blog anymore.....

The title: China's Tough Measures on Flu Appear to be Effective
The blurb: They quarantined foreigners and it worked! H1N1 is being contained! reminds me of Atlantic Storm and Germany's threat to Poland that we'd quarantine any Polish outsiders who came into Germany. I guess the plan would have worked.
: o )

Monday, September 21, 2009

Book Review : The Death of a Disease

The Death of a Disease DA Henderson
I really enjoyed reading this book by DA Henderson because it was the tale being told by an insider, whereas some of the other books we read for the class were more of third person accounts. I never knew one person could have such an impact on a movement as great as the smallpox eradication until I read this book, as well as Demon in the Freezer. I really enjoyed reading DA Henderson’s book, not only for that reason, but also because of his passion for eradicating smallpox. I personally do not know whether I believe that the stocks of smallpox should be destroyed, but I do know that I would agree with Henderson not wanting to keep the stocks right after the end of the eradication. I feel that his stance on this subject is really important because he was actually on the field and knew what it was like to have to struggle to give all of those vaccinations, so in a sense I feel that people should give his opinion, as well as those of people who worked along with him, a greater weight in determining whether the stocks should be kept…that is if they actually ever decide to make a decision and don’t keep pushing the dates back.
One part that I do have to disagree with Henderson on though, is whether or not eradicating another disease will be possible. While he does not think so, I have to be optimistic towards the fact. While I may be less credible because I have never actually been on the site during any eradication process, I think science has developed in such a way that eradication of certain diseases is becoming more and more possible. Take for example polio and guinea-worm disease, they have both come a long way towards being eradicated and while it may take hard work and great dedication, I think successes is likely.

Book Review : Biohazard

Biohazard Ken Alibek
I LOVED THIS BOOK! I never knew so much was going on in the world until I started reading this book. Before reading Ken Alibek’s take on biological weapons, I would never have guessed that people would actually stoop so low as to create weapons out of very devastating diseases. This book was semi-frightening to me because I have personally suffered from a disease that once caused epidemics, so it took me a while to grasp the idea that people would purposefully cause others to become ill. The fact that the Soviet Union’s biological weapons program was so intensive and detailed was also a bit frightening to me.
Ken Alibek put so much detail into his writing, that I nearly forgot I was reading a book at times. I found it interesting that Alibek also put so much detail about society in the Soviet Union into his book, including family structure, social structure, and a lot of politics. I like how he not only talked about the intensive weapons program but also what was going on in the world at the time. Now, looking back at the book after having experienced our amazing soco class, I found it extremely interesting that Steve Block does not trust Alibek. While he had some convincing points, about Alibek using his experiences to make a living and feeding people stories, it makes me question the authenticity of Biohazard, and just anything that Alibek may have told the US Government at all. However, overall I really enjoyed the book and thought it created a very good introduction to biological weapons and the great variety of ways that science can be used.

Book Review : Demon in the Freezer

Demon in the Freezer Richard Preston
This book was ultimately extremely captivating! Before reading this book, I was very and did not know what I had gotten myself into by signing up for this SoCo (mainly because of the amount of books that we were assigned). However as soon as I started reading the book, I was unable to put it down! The style with which Preston writes makes the book seem a lot less like it is about actual real life events, and it also makes the book seem a lot deeper than just a statement of a timeline of events.
One of the more confusing parts of the book, in my opinion, was the fact that the book started out as more of a description of a case of anthrax. While reading the book, I never felt like Preston ever really went back to the original story line and completed it. Otherwise, the book created a well depicted, generalized storyline of smallpox, its history, and its eradication. I felt like reading this book was definitely a better introduction to smallpox than if I was just given straight facts.
One of the most interesting parts of the book to me was the part about the eradication. Before signing up for this class, I had heard of smallpox, but I had never really considered what exactly happened to it or felt the urge to look into whether it was still prevalent in today’s world. However, after reading this book, an entire world of eradication and the possibilities of eradicating other diseases were opened up to me. Overall I really enjoyed this book, and I felt like it made me very excited for soco.

Review-- Assessment of Future Scientific Needs for Live Variola Virus

In 1999, the government (specifically the U.S. Department of Defense, the U.S. Department of Energy, and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services) requested that the Institute of Medicine convene an independent scientific panel to investigate future scientific needs for live variola virus. That committee, the “Committee on the Assessment of Future Needs for Variola (Smallpox) Virus,” produced a report “The Assessment of Future Scientific Needs for Live Variola Virus” chronicling their conclusions. The report outlines six major scientific needs for the smallpox virus, the first and most convincing being the need for further research into the creation of novel vaccines fit for immunocompromised populations.

The assessment is particularly interesting in light of the World Health Organization’s upcoming debate as to whether or not to retain the world’s existing stocks of live variola virus. Dr. Ann Arvin (Stanford University School of Medicine), who served on the committee both in 1999 and on a recent committee to revisit the issue, commented on the differences between the two assessments, claiming that the 2009 study was far less political than charged debates of 1999. I found this to be interesting, as both reports were intended to be (and appear to be) completely independent—obviously being unbiased is tough, even in science.

The 1999 assessment is well written, providing a clear outline of the major scientific motives for the retention of variola stocks, and well as a broad overview of smallpox epidemiology, eradication, and bioterrorism threat. It is informative and accessible to the general public, and although it is very technical, I did enjoy reading it.

The Avian Flu of 1957: Ghost of What's to Come

Throughout our course, we have repeatedly referenced the flu epidemic of 1918-1919 as a lesson for the upcoming swine flu pandemic. We never fully examined the similarities between H1N1 and the Avian Flu of 1957. After reading an article about it in The Washington Post, I am convinced that the epidemic of 1957 provides valuable lessons for the trajectory of swine flu and how to handle it.

The Avian Flu (H2N2) broke out during the normally flu-free summer in the Northern Hemisphere, and attacked many group-living situations such as summer camps and military bases. The current strain infected over 80 summer camps during the summer. Like H1N1, the 1957 virus had an overwhelming effect on younger people as compared to the elderly population that flu normally effects. Additionally, the 1957 Avian Flu was briefly harsh but rarely fatal, as H1N1 has thus far. As the article details, these similarities suggest that the pandemic of 1957 may be an instructive model for what is to come with H1N1.

Overall, the 1957 pandemic created 60,000 “excess deaths” in the U.S, which would be the equivalent of 107,000 people today. This is a substantial amount, and with such large similarities between the two epidemics, the Avian Flu of 1957 should be studied in order to prepare for the major outbreak of H1N1.

Review-- The Demon in the Freezer

The first two books that I read for Smallpox Safari, Smallpox—The Death of a Disease and Scourge, were both fascinating and incredibly informative. Looking back, however, I realize that it is Richard Preston’s The Demon in the Freezer that is the perfect introduction to smallpox. First, Preston’s story is informative, as he gives a detailed overview of the history and eradication of smallpox, along with the potential future threats of the disease. Second, the subject matter is timely. As Preston weaves the story through both smallpox and anthrax, he taps into the fears of the reader; both in 2002 soon after when the anthrax attacks occurred and in 2009 in a world where science and military are growing ever more connected. (Although I do agree that the presence of anthrax in the storyline did unnecessarily complicate the book). Finally, The Demon in the Freezer is simply exciting, due to the subject and the author’s gift for impressive storytelling.

Herein lies the beauty of The Demon in the Freezer, in its ability to combine a significant amount of academic information with an exhilarating literary adventure. The excitement is only compounded by the reality that Preston presents. Like most readers, Preston’s concluding words struck me: “We could eradicate smallpox from nature, but we could not uproot the virus from the human heart.” The Demon in the Freezer provides perfectly both the introductory information and the incentive to dive into the study of smallpox.