Viral Fitness: The Next SARS and West Nile in the Making

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Despite vaccines and medicines, we have not succeeded in eradicating the most poisonous viruses in the world, like jaundice, measles, diarrhea, polio, and AIDS, not to mention newcomers like West Nile and SARS. Also, since September 11, it is no longer unthinkable that a terrorist would intentionally spread a virus among people or the food chain. In this book, Jaap Goudsmit argues that there is no such thing as life without viruses for many reasons; including the fact that many viruses spread without any visible signs, and can hide in animals; that there are too many different species of viruses and they multiply much faster than any animal or plant; and that infections strike especially in areas where life is difficult enough already, such as Africa and Asia.

However, Goudsmit continues, if viruses hold onto life so stubbornly, perhaps they can be useful to other living beings. Do viruses offer people a better chance of survival in a hostile world? Do viruses make people fitter? Some viruses seem to play a role in the process whereby our genes adapt to the environment. What is it that makes viruses incredibly strong, and can we learn something from it? What is the secret of the enormous "fitness" of viruses? Will viruses spell the end of mankind or will man always be able to offer resistance? This book attempts to answer these and other questions.

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Editorial Reviews

Doody's Review Service
Reviewer: Jack M Bernstein, MD (Wright State University)
Description: Viral Fitness flies over many of the pathogenic viruses which infect life forms on this planet. Its goal is to look at trends in viral infection that may lead to new and potentially lethal epidemics.
Purpose: When I started reading this book, I was unclear as to its purpose. The author mentions that the idea germinated at a party for Laurie Garrett, the author of the Coming Plague. This book reads somewhat the same as Ms. Garrett's book just not quite as keenly written. The objective is honorable, however I found Garrett's book both more informative and more enjoyable to read.
Audience: This is a book written for the lay person. It is much too simplistic for someone who is conversant with infectious pathogens, to the extent that there is some oversimplification which could lead to erroneous conclusions. The author, nevertheless, is certainly a world authority on matters such as this.
Features: As mentioned earlier, this is an overview of pathogenic organisms on our planet with the unifying theme being the involvement of viruses (for instance, cholera and its bacteriophage). The author wanders widely, covering influenza, plant viruses, West Nile, and HIV, before finally finishing with smallpox and SARS. It is readable although I might not have dealt with these agents in the order that the author did. If you want a feel for what is going on, this is a reasonable book. If you want a definitive text, it is lacking.
Assessment: In the preface to this book, the Coming Plague is mentioned. This book is similar, but, given the author's experiences and biases, seems more like a train of thought. When I started reading it, I found it somewhat frustrating, but, as I finished it, I felt that I had gleaned some new information from it (and I fancy myself a clinical virologist). For physicians, this is probably not a book I would recommend. For a lay person, it is a reasonable and informative read.
From the Publisher
"Overall, the book was entertaining, educational, informative, and presents a broad array of divergent virus systems in an understandable way." —The Quarterly Review of Biology

2 Stars from Doody
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780195130348
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press
  • Publication date: 8/12/2004
  • Pages: 208
  • Product dimensions: 9.30 (w) x 6.20 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Table of Contents

Introduction: Virus Basics and the Concept of Viral Fitness
Jaap Goudsmit
1. As Natural As Breathing: The Flu Virus
2. Farming and Feeding the Hungry: Plant Viruses and Human Enteroviruses
3. Raising Cattle and Eating Meat: Rinderpest, Measles, and Mad Cow Disease
4. Slaking Our Thirst: The Cholera Bacteria and Its Toxic Viruses
5. Weathering Storms and Droughts: West Nile Virus and Others
6. Getting Lucky With a Faulty Gene: Escape from Simple Retroviruses
7 Taking Chances With Sex: The Herpes and Papova Viruses.
8. Risking Death with Sex: The AIDS Virus
9. Warring Against Humans and Other Animals:Smallpox, Monkeypox, and Others
10. Raiding the Wild For Delicacies: The SARS Virus

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