Among candidates for world's worst job, disease detective ranks pretty high. In Beating Back the Devil
, Maryn McKenna examines the everyday fascinations and horrors faced by the CDC's Epidemic Intelligence Service. On a few hours' notice, these physicians are ready to travel anywhere in the world to track down new medical threats. McKenna writes about the group's response to such frightening incidents as the first outbreaks of Ebola and SARS. In matter-of-fact, first-person narratives, EIS doctors tell how they deal with crises brought on not only by biological threats, but by public health mismanagement, terrorism, and war. One doctor describes trying to save children while working in conflict-torn Zaire:
"We would go into a center and find kids lying on the floor, severely dehydrated, with a clogged IV," he said. "Then we would go outside and find the relief workers building a stone fireplace.... And we'd have to say, Hot meals would be great, but in a few days you're not going to have any living kids to cook meals for.... Take this oral rehydration solution and sit by this child and spoon it into his mouth.... Don't do anything else, or this child is going to be dead."
McKenna's research is painstakingly meticulous, and the doctors she profiles come across as brave firefighters of microbiological conflagrations. Not since Sherwin Nuland has an author so effectively revealed the dramatic side of medicine. --Therese Littleton
From Publishers Weekly
Founded in 1951 because of a mistaken concern that troops in Korea had been exposed to biological weapons, the Epidemic Intelligence Service, or EIS, is the rapid-response force of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "Young, highly trained, and fiercely committed," EIS health professionals, including doctors, dentists, nurses and veterinarians, respond rapidly and travel to any area of the world to examine possible threats to public health. Given unique access to the EIS, McKenna presents 11 case studies of epidemics, environmental threats and acts of terrorism EIS has dealt with. McKenna puts readers on the scene with doctors discovering the beginnings of the AIDS epidemic in 1980. She tells of an EIS team that in 1994 traveled to Zaire to assist in a cholera epidemic sparked by a genocidal war. After 9/11, EIS investigated the anthrax attacks that were spread through the mails. McKenna, a senior medical writer at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, provides an inside look at how EIS workers are trained. Recruits, selected through a competitive process, are given refresher courses in epidemiology, statistical analysis and interviewing techniques before beginning a two-year on-the-job training. McKennas personal portraits of these dedicated health professionals illuminate the bravery as well as the anxiety that accompany this demanding work.
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