Asleep: The Forgotten Epidemic That Remains One of Medicine's Greatest Mysteries

( 5 )

Overview

"In 1918, a world war was raging, and a lethal strain of influenza was circling the globe. In the midst of all this death, a bizarre disease appeared in Europe, Eventually known as encephalitis lethargica, or sleeping sickness, it would spread across the world, leaving millions dead or locked in institutions. Then, in 1927, it would disappear as suddenly as it had arrived." "This book tells the story of an epidemic largely forgotten in the shadow of the Spanish flu pandemic that accompanied it. The disease earned its name from the long sleep many ...

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Overview

"In 1918, a world war was raging, and a lethal strain of influenza was circling the globe. In the midst of all this death, a bizarre disease appeared in Europe, Eventually known as encephalitis lethargica, or sleeping sickness, it would spread across the world, leaving millions dead or locked in institutions. Then, in 1927, it would disappear as suddenly as it had arrived." "This book tells the story of an epidemic largely forgotten in the shadow of the Spanish flu pandemic that accompanied it. The disease earned its name from the long sleep many patients succumbed to, but the kaleidoscope of symptoms ranged from unending sleep to dangerous insomnia, facial tics to catatonia, Parkinson's to violent insanity, The disease did have one positive effect: it was a catalyst for the growth of the previously underappreciated field of neurology ... Asleep, set in 1920s and '30s New York, follows a group of neurologists through hospitals and insane asylums as they try to solve this worldwide epidemic and treat the patients who fell victim to it - patients who learned the worst fate was not dying of sleeping sickness, but surviving it." To this day, doctors do not know whether encephalitis lethargica is caused by a virus, bacteria, or the body's own immune response. They do know that it may reemerge in the wake or a new flu pandemic. Asleep takes you into the frightening history of this forgotten disease - and the frantic effort to conquer it before it strikes again.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Here’s medical curiosity combining history, mystery, and riveting storytelling. Crosby (The American Plague) relates the vexing appearance during WWI of encephalitis lethargica—sleeping sickness—through the stories of patients, doctors, and public health servants swept up in an epidemic that affected as many as five million people worldwide in a little over a decade. Despite a high mortality rate, writes Crosby, surviving the epidemic was worse than dying from it. Survivors were left insane and locked in a statue-like immobility. As interesting to Crosby as the mystery of sleeping sickness’s sudden appearance and spread, possibly in tandem with the Spanish flu, is the aftermath, which taxed the burgeoning fields of neurology and mental health. The mystery of the epidemic isn’t yet solved, leaving concerns about a future recurrence. The remarkable human connection Crosby brings to this scientific oddity helps enlighten readers about a pandemic forgotten in the shadow of the contemporaneous Spanish flu and till now memorialized only in Oliver Sacks’s Awakening. (Mar.)
Kirkus Reviews
The engaging story of the outbreak of a bizarre disease. In 1917, a young neurologist named Dr. Constantin von Economo was faced with a sudden influx of unusual patients at a clinic in Vienna, Austria. They exhibited a bizarre array of symptoms, including uncontrollable blinking, twitching, salivating or other tics-or even psychotic behavior. Others were locked in a catatonic state. All the patients had one symptom in common-difficulty staying awake. Indeed, some patients fell deeply asleep and never woke up. Autopsies showed that patients had swelling in the section of the brain that controls sleep. Von Economo identified the disease, which became known as encephalitis lethargica-sleeping sickness-but neither he nor anyone else could pinpoint what was causing it. It became a worldwide epidemic during the next few years, affecting millions-but after 1927, the epidemic tapered off, and new cases became rare. Crosby (The American Plague: The Untold Story of Yellow Fever, the Epidemic that Shaped Our History, 2006) relates the history of encephalitis lethargica by using several case studies. They range from a New York girl who had violent seizures and then fell into a sleep from which she never awoke, to a woman whose disease drove her to grotesque self-harm-including tearing out her own eyes. Some of the catatonic victims of the disease became the subject of Oliver Sacks's book Awakenings (1973) which was later made into a film. Crosby is a fine storyteller, peppering her case studies with facts about the history of neurology and details about 1910s New York. She also provides fully realized portraits of not only her case studies' patients, but also the brilliant doctors who treated them,such as Frederick Tilney, a neurologist who later gained fame for his study of Helen Keller, and Josephine B. Neal, a rare female bacteriologist, neurologist and encephalitis expert in a male-dominated profession. Crosby also provides the latest theories of the causes of this strange disease, the origins of which are still elusive. A capable, readable account of a medical mystery. Agent: Ellen Geiger/Frances Goldin Literary Agency
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780594286790
  • Publisher: Berkley Trade Pub
  • Publication date: 3/2/2010
  • Pages: 291
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Molly Caldwell Crosby holds an MFA in nonfiction and science writing from John Hopkins University and previously worked for National Geographic magazine. Her writing has appeared in Newsweek, Health, and USA Today.

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Table of Contents

Prologue: Inside 1

Case History One: An Unknown Soldier 5

1 An Epidemic Begins 7

2 Constantin von Economo 13

3 The London Outbreak 21

Case History Two: Ruth 29

4 New York City 31

5 Ruth 44

6 The Neurologist 50

7 The Medical Investigators 54

Case History Three: Adam 63

8 Adam 65

9 Smith Ely Jelliffe 71

10 The Alienist 81

11 Only the Beginning 92

Case History Four: Jessie 99

12 Jessie 101

13 1925 109

14 A Two-Headed Beast 117

Case History Five: Rosie 121

15 Madness 123

16 Rosie 136

17 The Neurological Institute 146

Case History Six: Sylvia 155

18 The Matheson Commission 157

19 Josephine B. Neal 162

20 Vaccine Trials 169

21 Sylvia 181

22 I Have Seen the Future 193

Case History Seven: Philip 207

23 Philip 209

24 Gray Matter 212

25 Past or Prologue? 222

Epilogue: Virginia and the Forgotten Epidemic 227

Acknowledgments 231

Notes 235

Bibliography 263

Index 279

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