Virus X: Tracking the New Killer Plagues

Virus X: Tracking the New Killer Plagues

by Frank Ryan
     
 

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AIDS, Ebola, "mad cow disease," "flesh-eating" viruses...Today's newspapers are full of articles about new plagues & viruses. Where do these new viruses come from? Why do new plagues arise? Could there be - will there be - a lethal & incurable Virus X that spreads as easily as the common cold? The author, a renowned authority on diseases, presents a radical theory

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Overview

AIDS, Ebola, "mad cow disease," "flesh-eating" viruses...Today's newspapers are full of articles about new plagues & viruses. Where do these new viruses come from? Why do new plagues arise? Could there be - will there be - a lethal & incurable Virus X that spreads as easily as the common cold? The author, a renowned authority on diseases, presents a radical theory about the origin of deadly microbes in a book that takes us into the "hot zones" of today's most dangerous viral outbreaks, then into the research labs & hospitals where doctors & scientists are risking their lives trying to control them.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
The first half of Ryan's second book (after The Forgotten Plague, 1993) is a riveting nonfiction medical thriller packed with information. Ryan, a British physician, details the methodologies and personalities behind the investigations into some of the world's most deadly viral epidemics, including hantavirus pulmonary syndrome, Ebola fever and AIDS. The book's final nine chapters, however, are far less successful. In them, Ryan attempts to explain the ecological reasons for deadly outbreaks of plagues-but it quickly becomes apparent that he is not an ecologist. Not only does he subscribe to the outdated view of natural selection being red in tooth and claw, he fails to distinguish between process and outcome, referring to both natural selection and symbiosis as "natural laws" when, in fact, the latter comes about through the former. Additionally, he ventures over the poetic edge with such sentences as, "viruses have, through the empirics of evolution, become unwitting knights of nature, armed by evolution for furious genomic attack against her transgressors." The disappointing latter half of the book tarnishes but doesn't completely overshadow the earlier quality and excitement of what might have been another Hot Zone but isn't. Illustrations not seen by PW. (Feb.)
Library Journal
Of the many recent books about emerging diseases, this is one of the most interesting and disquieting, not only because of its gripping accounts of recent disease outbreaks such as hantavirus and AIDS but because of what it says about the nature of viruses. Ryan, author of the well-received The Forgotten Plague (LJ 5/15/93), uses accounts of scientists' struggles to understand "new" diseases as a springboard for a discussion of the ecology and evolution of viruses. He points out that viruses tend to coevolve with their host organisms over time into a mutually tolerable or beneficial relationship and that in fact human DNA contains many genes of viral origin. Particularly disturbing is his suggestion that "aggressive symbiosis" may lead to selection for strains of viruses that are particularly virulent to animals related to and threatening their current host species. AIDS, in fact, seems to be originally a primate disease. Although he believes natural selection will eventually lead to more benign strains, humanity's recent encroachment on such environments as tropical rain-forests is likely to bring us into contact with unfamiliar and as yet very dangerous diseases. Pandemics, he says, are inevitable. Arguing that the world public heath establishment is increasingly ill prepared to deal with new crises, Ryan concludes with a discussion of the characteristics of a "doomsday virus" that would threaten our species. Likely to provoke controversy, this well-written and well-researched book is recommended for most libraries.-Marit S. MacArthur, Auraria Lib., Denver
Kirkus Reviews
From the author of The Forgotten Plague (1993), which sounded an alarm about the resurgence of tuberculosis, comes another dire warning, this time about the threat of new plagues from emerging viruses.

Ryan, a member of both the Royal College of Physicians and the New York Academy of Medicine, painstakingly chronicles numerous outbreaks, including those of hantavirus in the American Southwest in 1993, Ebola virus in Sudan and Zaire in 1976 and in Reston, Va., in 1989, and, of course, HIV. In addition to recounting the grim details, he examines the circumstances under which these new, lethal viruses have emerged and proposes an intriguing explanation of what is going on. Ryan's theory is that viruses have co-evolved with their feral hosts, with which they have developed a symbiotic relationship. When a rival species, such as humankind, intrudes on the host's environment, the virus attacks the invader. Vast numbers of viruses exist in the rainforests of the world, as well as in the grasslands and the oceans, and as deforestation, agricultural intrusion, and coastal pollution continue, humans can expect to encounter them. As yet, no new virus has been both lethal and highly infectious; however, if one were to emerge that combined these two characteristics—as deadly, say, as HIV and as contagious as the common cold—the result could be a pandemic of catastrophic proportions. He urges increased international cooperation to reduce abuse of the environment, and he calls on governments and the medical profession to get ready now for the very real danger posed by a new viral pandemic.

Detailed, Berton Rouechéstyle accounts of medical detection in support of a powerful doomsday warning.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780316763066
Publisher:
Hachette Book Group
Publication date:
08/26/2004
Pages:
452
Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 1.01(d)

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