Well, it was bound to happen eventually.
In fact, out of an abundance of caution, Western Oregon University--where I did my graduate work and where former world's best nanny Rebekah attends--closed its campus today and will remain closed through Monday because a student might have swine flu.
I am both alternately annoyed and fascinated by the media's coverage. On the one hand, the media is all about freaking people out. It's no wonder that foreign countries aren't importing North American pork--even though you can't catch the swine flu from eating pork--the media circus is ridiculous. I won't even watch the news tonight because it'll be all about swine flu, and all about panic. And since the spring flu is usually just nature's "test-run" for the winter flu, then we might be hearing about the swine flu for a long time. Fabulous.
However, as I've mentioned a few times before, I love reading about immunology and diseases. I don't know what it is about pandemics and epidemics and plagues that I find so thrilling (especially considering I am embarrassingly ignorant about general science topics), but with the new outbreak I've been keeping my eyes open for non-dramatized articles about the swine flu. Reading about Outbreaks vs. Epidemics? Yes, please. Reading about the swine flu as bioterrorism? Sure. Today I saw that Slate provided me with a whole page full of swiney links. Oh mercy.
Now, being a non-science person, I can't just pick up the latest science journal and be enthralled. I need my diseases wrapped in mystery and intrigue, and cushioned by a well-worded narrative. You do that, and you've got me hooked.
If by some chance you also enjoy an excellently written germ story, well, here are five suggestions. (If you aren't interested, at the very least, check out the last book on this list.)
- Flu: The Story of the Great Influenza Pandemic, by Gina Kolata. This was the book that got me hooked on diseases. The flu pandemic of 1918 killed tens of millions of people, but scientists are still uncertain what made that strain so deadly. The mystery of it? Most of the 1918 flu's victims were young and middle-aged adults. A few parts of the book get a little weighty, but skimming is fine enough, and being aware of how the flu of 1918 is shaping today's flu theories makes this a compelling read.
- The American Plague: The Untold Story of Yellow Fever, the Epidemic that Shaped Our History, by Molly Caldwell Crosby. Did you know that the CDC is alerted if just one case of yellow fever is detected? I found The American Plague quite gripping, and patted myself on the back for recognizing her references to Kolata's flu book. Crosby's medical mystery is disjointed in some parts, but finely recounts the heroics of those who eventually solved the causes for yellow fever. You'll never look at a mosquito the same again.
- 28: Stories of AIDS in Africa, by Stephanie Nolan. I randomly stumbled upon a blogger's recommendation for this book, and checked it out from the library on a whim. I'm so glad I did. For each of the 28 chapters (representative of the 28 million HIV-infected people in Africa), Nolan focuses on one individual HIV related case: an orphan, a scholar, a prostitute immune to AIDS. The individual stories are heartbreaking, staggering, and informative. I've recommended this book to more than a dozen people (although no one I know has ever taken me up on my recommendation...reading about AIDS is no walk in the park).
- Vaccinated: One Man's Quest to Defeat the World's Deadliest Diseases, by Paul Offit. The dominant narrative of the book is the history of Maurice Hilleman and vaccinations, but naturally in order to understand vaccinations you have to understand diseases. I reviewed the book a couple years ago, and it still stands out in my mind as a compelling read, not only for its history of diseases but also for its strong case favoring vaccines.
- Better: A Surgeon's Notes on Performance, by Atul Gawande. Now I know I've mentioned this book before, and perhaps you've shrugged off my recommendation. But seriously. SERIOUSLY. You need to read this book. It's. so. good. For what it's worth, it's got a 4 1/2 star rating on Amazon. It's a quick read, each chapter stands alone, it's well written and even funny, and it gives you a look into the medical community that will change the way you think. Buy it. Check it out from the library. Spend an afternoon at the bookstore. Whatever you have to do, read it. And when you do, let me know so I can stop harassing you to read it.
So, there's my germ-infested list. All this swine flu talk got me interested in reading about pandemics again, so I'm starting on The Coming Plague: Newly Emerging Diseases in a World Out of Balance next week, hoping it won't be too dated (it was written in 1995). I'd love to hear any suggestions you might have, assuming I'm not the only one who has a morbid fascination with books like these. Anyone? Hello? Bueller?
Most importantly though, I'm hoping you all stay safe and healthy from this nasty flu. As for me, I'll be happy to read the book about it in a couple years, and just like all my disease infested reads, I'd rather not have personal experience with the topic.