The overwhelming theme of “Virus Hunter” is the need to be extremely careful when dealing with infectious diseases. C. J. Peter’s introduces an old medical adage: “Common things occur commonly. Uncommon things don’t. Therefore, when you hear hoofbeats, think horses, not zebras.” However, in the field of disease research and control you have to assume that the hoofbeats are those of zebras, or pay the penalty for underestimating the danger that could be present.
The very first chapter, entitled “The Killer Without a Name” sets the the pattern for the rest of the book. C. J. Peters does an amazing job of showing the tension, fear, and danger associated with virus outbreaks. First he shows what such an epidemic is like from point of view of someone living in the area:
One day you child, your parent, your spouse, or your lover—the person your cherish most in the world—is vigorous and healthy and full of life. Then he or she comes down the a headache, some fever and body aches, his or her chest feels heavy, breathing becomes labored. They complain of vague symptoms that get worse and worse. Sometime later, they collapse.
Twenty-four hours later, they’re dead.
Then C. J. Peters moves on to show the point of view of the medical community. The doctors discouraged by their apparent inability to keep their patients alive. In some cases they are overwhelmed by scores of sick people and others who are afraid that they might be sick. Then the disease starts killing nurses and doctors.
The hospitals themselves become dangerous places because they are filled with sick and dying people. The rest of the general populace sees the inadequacy of the hospitals and doctors and so they stop taking their relatives there, choosing instead to try to treat them at home.
Peters has worked in this kind of atmosphere for thirty years. He describes the way that he has had to deal with the press, doctors, and anguished patients. Since many such dangerous outbreaks occur in third world countries, C. J. Peters also describes the way the local economy and local culture affect the way the CDC and other research teams have to deal with people.
It is also highly dangerous to work in the research facilities that handle infectious diseases. C. J. Peters describes trying to save the life of a colleague who cuts himself with a scalpel while performing an autopsy. He shows healthy doctors who break down, sure that they have the disease themselves. Time and again, he demonstrates how even the most expensive high-tech research lab is only as safe as the procedures and attention to detail shown by the people who work in it.
“Virus Hunter” is extremely detailed, and its passages are both exciting and informative. This is an adult book, however. Not only does it include rather graphic medical descriptions of the effects of some diseases, but C. J. Peters makes occasional use of profanity. This language is the only thing that I regret about the presentation of “Virus Hunter.”
Overall, I would definitely recommend “Virus Hunter” as an exciting educational book on infectious disease.
Inkweaver Book Rating: