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China Syndrome: The True Story of the 21st…

China Syndrome: The True Story of the 21st Century's First Great Epidemic (2005)

by Karl Taro Greenfeld

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693279,138 (3.82)1
When SARS broke out in January 2003, author Greenfeld was the editor of Time Asia in Hong Kong, just a few miles from the epicenter of the outbreak. After vague, initial reports of terrified Chinese emptying pharmacy shelves and boiling vinegar to "purify" the air in nearby Guangdong province, Greenfeld and his staff soon found themselves immersed in the story of a lifetime. His scientific thriller takes readers on a ride that blows through the Chinese government's effort to cover up the disease. Greenfeld tracks this mysterious killer outbreak, from the bedside of one of the first Chinese victims to overwhelmed hospital wards crashing from the onslaught of cases, from cutting-edge labs where researchers struggle to identify the virus to the war rooms at the World Health Organization headquarters in Geneva.--From publisher description.… (more)



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I have just finished this after sheltering in place for two weeks due to the Covid-19 virus. I wish I had read it earlier and educated myself on the subject of viruses and the Chinese government's response thereto. The author is a journalist who was head of Times Asia when SARS, a highly contagious respiratory virus like Covid19, broke out in Southern China in 2003 and spread quickly to Hong Kong, Hanoi, Beijing, and then to the U.S. via international flights. In some ways the description of what happened 13 years ago with SARS is like deja vu all over again.

The book follows the efforts of international scientists who attempt to discover the cause of the outbreak (civet cats in wild animal markets). It also depicts the Chinese doctors, nearly all of whom are deemed to be every bit as accomplished as U.S. physicians, as heroes. They tended the sick under difficult conditions and tried to get the word out but were not allowed to do so by local government officials until 300 people had died. The author also admits that the news media, including his magazine, were too slow to report what they heard about the virus because it erupted on the eve of the U.S.'s invasion of Iraq. The author said that at the time the "only story that mattered was terrorism." Then, as now, as the infections and deaths increased, the problem morphed from being medical to being political.

One lesson to be learned, among many, is that while governments naturally tend to deny the existence of an epidemic, the population is often as guilty as those ruling it. How many people today are refusing to wear face masks or observe social distancing? And the wild animal markets have not ben eliminated in China, indeed some sources have pointed the finger at the so-called "wet markets" as the source of the current outbreak. According to the book, once the civet cats were removed from the wild animal markets, the chain of animal to human infection was broken, and there were no further outbreaks of SARS. You'd think the world would have learned its lesson from the SARS outbreak, but obviously it hasn't.

The book is a page turner along the lines of "Hot Zone," and like the other reviewer said, it reads somewhat like a novel. ( )
  chas69 | Apr 14, 2020 |
I have a soft spot for germ books and this one was a page turner. Read on a tablet and found myself cross referencing people, places and things throughout my reading. Fun to read and informative too! Particulate Respirator and Surgical Mask now on my Amazon wishlist. ( )
  mossland | Jul 16, 2013 |
Fantastic description of the recent SARS epidemic and China's refusal to allow any news of the outbreak to be reported. Reads like a novel. ( )
  nberg | Jan 31, 2009 |
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