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The Fatal Strain: On the Trail of Avian Flu and the Coming Pandemic (Hardcover)
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A riveting account of why science alone can’t stop the next pandemic
Outbreaks of avian and swine flu have reawakened fears that had lain dormant for nearly a century, ever since the influenza pandemic of 1918 that killed at least 50 million people worldwide. When a highly lethal strain of avian flu broke out in Asia in recent years and raced westward, the Washington Post’s Alan Sipress chased the emerging threat as it infiltrated remote jungle villages, mountain redoubts, and teeming cities. He tracked the virus across nine countries, watching its secrets repeatedly elude the world’s brightest scientists and most intrepid disease hunters. Savage and mercurial, this novel influenza strain—H5N1—has been called the kissing cousin of the Spanish flu and, with just a few genetic tweaks, could kill millions of people. None of us is immune.
The Fatal Strain is a fast-moving account that weaves cultural, political, and scientific strands into a tale of inevitable epidemic. In his vivid portrayal of the struggle between man and microbe, Sipress chronicles the accelerating number of near misses and explores the cruel dynamic that has often made Asia the fountainhead of killer flu strains. Even more than modern medicine, it is chicken smugglers, fighting cock breeders, and witch doctors who could determine the evolution of this viral menace by allowing it to breed and speeding it on its way.
The ease of international travel and the delicate balance of today’s global economy have left the world vulnerable to pandemic in a way the victims of 1918 could never imagine. But it is human failings that may pose the greatest peril. Political bosses in country after country have covered up outbreaks. Ancient customs, like trading in live poultry and the ritual release of birds to earn religious merit, have failed to adapt to the microbial threat. The world’s wealthy countries have left poorer, frontline countries without affordable vaccines or other weapons for confronting the disease, fostering a sense of grievance that endangers us all.
The chilling truth is that we don’t have command over the H5N1 virus. It continues to spread, thwarting efforts to uproot it. And as it does, the viral dice continue to roll, threatening to produce a pandemic strain that is both deadly and can spread as easily as the common cold. Swine flu has reminded us that flu epidemics happen. Sipress reminds us something far worse could be brewing.
About the Author
Alan Sipress is economics editor at "The Washington Post" and a longtime foreign correspondent, based most recently in Southeast Asia. In 2005, a "Post" team he anchored was awarded the Jesse Laventhol Prize for Deadline Writing for coverage of the South Asian tsunami. This is his first book. He lives in Washington, D.C.
"This is a book about much more than a lethal threat from the influenza virus. It's about the fog of war, about reality, about the gap between those who make plans and those who carry them out. And ultimately it's about heroism and determination. There are lessons here for everyone, and in compelling fashion this book drives those lessons home."——John M. Barry, author of The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History
“Alan Sipress has produced a vivid and enthralling story that could not be more timely. Ever evolving, ever elusive, influenza threatens us on a scale far worse than anything we've yet seen. Sipress pursues the deadly strain through Asia with tenacious energy, revealing the true scale of the danger, and the terrifying inadequacy of our readiness to face it.”——Pete Davies, Author of Devil’s Flu and Inside the Hurricane
“The Fatal Strain reads like a gripping medical mystery novel-only it is not. It is the true story of the scary world of pandemic influenza expertly written by one of the leading ‘flu journalists’ of our time. Although the H1N1 (swine) influenza pandemic is unfolding before us, we must not take our eye off of avian influenza, as it very well may lead to a deadly “one-two pandemic punch.” Anyone who cares about what might happen to their loved ones, friends or colleagues should read this book.”——Michael T. Osterholm PhD, MPH., Director, Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy, University of Minnesota
“Masterfully paced, gripping work”——Seed
“Exemplary—and highly frightening—investigative reporting.”——Kirkus (starred review)
“Timely, given today’s headline-bursting thread of swine flu (H1N1). It is…a cautionary tale [as] influenza is about politics.”——Booklist