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Flu (1999)

by Gina Kolata

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1,1533113,923 (3.7)1 / 58
The fascinating, true story of the world's deadliest disease. In 1918, the Great Flu Epidemic felled the young and healthy virtually overnight. An estimated forty million people died as the epidemic raged. Children were left orphaned and families were devastated. As many American soldiers were killed by the 1918 flu as were killed in battle during World War I. And no area of the globe was safe. Eskimos living in remote outposts in the frozen tundra were sickened and killed by the flu in such numbers that entire villages were wiped out. Scientists have recently rediscovered shards of the flu virus frozen in Alaska and preserved in scraps of tissue in a government warehouse. The author unravels the mystery of this lethal virus with the high drama of a great adventure story. Delving into the history of the flu and previous epidemics, detailing the science and the latest understanding of this mortal disease, sheaddresses the prospects for a great epidemic recurring, and, most important, what can be done to prevent it.… (more)
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Flu by Gina Kolata (3 stars)
Not quite what I was expecting. Although the book does contain some interesting information about the search for the virus that caused the 1918 flu epidemic, it falls rather short on answering any burning questions about it. The book contains a lot of ancillary information, like listings of education degrees, names of scientists who attended conferences and strong unflattering opinions about an expedition to Norway to retrieve the virus (so it can possibly be studied), from burials of flu victims in arctic permafrost. It seems like the author was just trying to inflate word count without much of a real science mystery. A mediocre attempt. Blah. ( )
  kaida46 | May 27, 2022 |
The subtitle of the book is "The Story of the Great Influenza Pandemic of 1918 and the Search for the Virus That Caused It." If you (like me) picked up this book in order to learn more about the 1918 Spanish flu, how it was curbed, and how this epidemic impacted public health measures and policy, this book did not give you detailed information. Out of the 10 chapters in the book, only one chapter was about "the 1918 pandemic" itself. (And it did give you some information about what the pandemic looked like. It had horrifying vignettes about the devastation, the bodies....etc. And it contained photographs of Americans civilians all wearing cloth masks. Very different from the culture today! ) The second chapter is about the various pandemics that took place in human history. The remaining 8 chapters all deal with different research or public health events that are related to the 1918 flu virus, culminating in scientists finding the virus and publishing its genetic sequence. Chapters 7 and 9 focused on Jeffery Taubenberger's discovery of the 1918 flu virus and were more exciting than the other chapters. Chapter 8's account of CDC's investigation in 1997 of Hong Kong's H5N1 bird flu was also enjoyable. It was fulfilling to read about scientists and CDC officials knowing how to get their job done and getting it done. ( )
  CathyChou | Mar 11, 2022 |
Finally finished this. I was really into it at first. It's an interesting overview of the efforts to identify the 1918 flu virus (Spanish Flu). It's pretty much a straight history. Not much speculation about emerging flu viruses. Although, that's probably a little harsh of me to say considering this was written in 1999. The main thing I found I didn't like about this book was that much of the writing was very repetitive. If I had a nickel for every time flu virus growing in chickens eggs was mentioned, I could probably buy a soda. And it was presented as new information every time. It made parts of the narrative feel disconnected, like these were essays stuck together rather than a book written as a whole. ( )
  JessicaReadsThings | Dec 2, 2021 |
I decided to reread Gina Kolata's Flu during self-imposed COVID-19 isolation. I thoroughly enjoyed this book when it was first published in 1999. The author provides a brief history of the 1918 flu pandemic, and of earlier pandemics, but most of the book is focused on the efforts to identify and understand the virus that caused that pandemic. Many of the researchers the author interviewed for this book have probably retired or passed on by now, and epidemiology has changed dramatically since 1999, but the stories are still interesting.

The 1918 flu struck near the end of WWI, when troops on the front were already exhausted and malnourished, and when US military bases were packed with new recruits. The movement and mixing of large numbers of people greatly contributed to the spread of the pandemic.

Some things never change. In 1918, crazy conspiracy theories about the cause of the pandemic were rampant. Public officials in many countries tried to downplay the risk - until they couldn't. Various "cures" were promoted, some worse than others. And 100+ years later, we are still making the same mistakes. ( )
  oregonobsessionz | Jul 20, 2020 |
Interesting, but ultimately unsatisfying. I learned a lot about the 1918 flu - I'd been aware of it, of course, but I had no idea of the scope of the disaster. Knowing that, the later scares about bird flu and the like make more sense. But then she goes on to describe some of the recent and current attempts to understand this flu virus; it's framed as a triumphant "we figured it out!" story, but in fact there are no solid answers yet. Things have been figured out, but they don't include why the 1918 flu was so virulent, why it harmed those it did, how to make a vaccine against it if it shows up again...it's very much a story in progress, which appears to dribble off inconclusively in the book. If it had been framed differently - as a search rather than a solution, say - it might have ended more smoothly. Still worth reading. ( )
  jjmcgaffey | Dec 29, 2019 |
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Epigraph
This is a detective story. Here was a mass murder that was around 80 years ago and who's never been brought to justice. And what we're trying to do is find the murderer.
— Jeffrey Taubenberger, molecular pathologist
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For my parents
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If anyone should have known about the 1918 flu, it was I.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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The fascinating, true story of the world's deadliest disease. In 1918, the Great Flu Epidemic felled the young and healthy virtually overnight. An estimated forty million people died as the epidemic raged. Children were left orphaned and families were devastated. As many American soldiers were killed by the 1918 flu as were killed in battle during World War I. And no area of the globe was safe. Eskimos living in remote outposts in the frozen tundra were sickened and killed by the flu in such numbers that entire villages were wiped out. Scientists have recently rediscovered shards of the flu virus frozen in Alaska and preserved in scraps of tissue in a government warehouse. The author unravels the mystery of this lethal virus with the high drama of a great adventure story. Delving into the history of the flu and previous epidemics, detailing the science and the latest understanding of this mortal disease, sheaddresses the prospects for a great epidemic recurring, and, most important, what can be done to prevent it.

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