Book Club – The Coming Plague

I think we’ve all heard a lot about Zika in the past few months.  Hardly a single story about the Olympics is written without the mention of this virus. Major discussion surrounds who’s going or not based on Zika. For the Center for Disease Control’s take, read here. In fact, I was planning on going to the Olympics with my girlfriends until I decided to get pregnant earlier this year.  I do not want to contract Zika and the possible debilitating birth defects associated with it.  But, I’ll also be late in my third trimester and unable to travel. Definitely a bummer, but better than microcephaly.

comingplagueWith all this talk of disease, it reminded me of a fascinating book I read nearly 20 years ago: “The Coming Plague: Newly Emerging Diseases in a World Out of Balance” written by the brilliant Laurie Garrett. This tome tracks over the history, outbreaks and social outcomes of diseases including HIV/AIDS, Ebola, Lassa Fever, and influenza. I was a much younger scientist when I read this book. I hadn’t considered the social and economic effects of disease.  In particular, I remember the stories about how HIV/AIDS in Africa. This virus has devastated families who often had both mother and father die from the disease leaving millions of orphans. But not only that, AIDS eliminated much of the workforce in certain parts of Africa, decimating the economy.

My thoughts on “The Coming Plague”

After reading this book, I insisted that my Mom, who was  substituting teaching at the time, read it too. She called one day to let me know that she told all the teachers in the break room that some deadly disease (likely a version of the Spanish Flu) was going to re-emerge and likely kill millions of people.

I think even just 20 years ago, this fear would be extremely well founded.  Today, I have high hopes that modern science has the funding, political support, and skill to quickly diagnose and develop a treatment for a newly emerging disease.  Zika provides a modern example.  In mere months, scientists have been able to confirm that Zika is linked to birth defects (one original article using animal models here) and less than a month ago, the first clinical trial of a Zika vaccine was approved by the FDA (article here).

Is the Zika response good enough, fast enough, or certain to be effective?  Only time will tell.  Does this science mean that we don’t need to concern ourselves with emerging infectious disease?  Not at all!  In fact, it may mean that we should be even more vigilant so that scientists will have the funding to study, understand, and help treat these diseases as quickly as possible.