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Deadly Outbreaks: How Medical Detectives Save Lives Threatened by Killer Pandemics, Exotic Viruses, and Drug-Resistant Parasites Hardcover – September 1, 2013

ISBN-13: 978-1626360358 ISBN-10: 1626360359 Edition: 1st

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Always be ready for the unexpected could be a motto for epidemiologists. And the unexpected might be a link between lots of dead birds and a cluster of patients with encephalitis, or a connection between the brains of slaughtered hogs and multiple ­employees experiencing muscle weakness. Levitt reviews seven medical mysteries that appeared between 1976 and 2007 and reports on the lessons learned. Some of these outbreaks are familiar: Legionnaires’ disease in Philadelphia in 1976, hantavirus in the Four Corners region in 1993, and West Nile virus in New York City in 1999. Other difficult-to-solve cases described in the book include a salmonella scare due to contaminated ice cream in Minnesota, drug-resistant malaria in a Cambodian refugee camp, suspicious deaths in a Toronto children’s hospital, and progressive inflammatory neuropathy (nerve damage) afflicting workers in a Minnesota meatpacking plant. Levitt, a scientist with the Centers for Disease Control, portrays epidemiologists as disease detectives who tirelessly hunt for clues and excel at deductive reasoning. Even Sherlock Holmes would be proud of this astute group of professionals. --Tony Miksanek

Review

Alexandra Levitt has produced a wonderfully crafted series of stories on how real-world epidemiologists practice the art and science of disease outbreak detection, investigation, and response. ... Anyone with even a passing interest in disease investigation will find Deadly Outbreaks to be a great read. - Stephen Ostroff, M.D., Former Deputy Director, National Center for Infectious Diseases, CDC and Former Director, Bureau of Epidemiology, Pennsylvania Department of Health

This terrific book allows us to experience 'shoe-leather' epidemiology at its very best. From the extraordinary detection of West Nile Virus in New York City to the control of drug-resistant malaria in the tropics, this endlessly fascinating book explores the world of epidemiologists at the front line in the global war against outbreaks, pandemics, and never- before-seen deadly pathogens. ... This is an extraordinary read! - Matt Boulton, M.D., M.P.H., Professor of Epidemiology and Preventive Medicine, University of Michigan, School of Public Health

These are gripping, suspenseful stories that are exceptionally well-written and highly instructive. Public health practitioners and students will benefit from the hard-won victories of epidemiologists described here, and in my opinion, one can hardly hope to learn important lessons for the future in a more enjoyable way. ... This volume is in the finest proud tradition of Paul de Kruif's Microbe Hunters (1926)... and Berton Roueché's Eleven Blue Men (1953). - Don Hopkins, M.D., M.P.H., Vice President of Health Programs at The Carter Center (from the Foreword to Deadly Outbreaks)

“These are gripping, suspenseful stories that are exceptionally well-written and highly instructive. Public health practitioners and students will benefit from the hard-won victories of epidemiologists described here, and in my opinion, one can hardly hope to learn important lessons for the future in a more enjoyable way. Beyond the interesting science and methodology of epidemiology per se, the reader experiences vicariously the personal and professional mindsets of epidemiologists as they deal with substantial medical, bureaucratic, political and legal challenges, sometimes simultaneously, often while being well aware of the high stakes consequences of their findings.” (Don Hopkins, M.D., M.P.H., Vice President of Health Programs at The Carter Center)

“This terrific book allows us to experience ‘shoe-leather’ epidemiology at its very best. From the extraordinary detection of West Nile Virus in New York City to the control of drug-resistant malaria in the tropics, this endlessly fascinating book explores the world of epidemiologists at the front line in the global war against outbreaks, pandemics, and never before-seen deadly pathogens. A book for students, practitioners, and faculty alike, anyone who reads this will discover why epidemiology truly is the core science of public health. This is an extraordinary read!” (Matt Boulton, M.D., M.P.H., Professor of Epidemiology and Preventive Medicine, University of Michigan, School of Public Health, and Editor in Chief, American Journal of Preventive Medicine.)

“Alexandra Levitt has produced a wonderfully crafted series of stories on how real-world epidemiologists practice the art and science of disease outbreak detection, investigation, and response. ….all (chapters) offer fascinating insights into the thought process used by medical detectives and present the back stories that are found in all investigations but don’t appear in journal publications. Dr. Levitt pays homage to the creativity, ingenuity, and dogged determination that are the hallmarks of all successful shoe-leather epidemiologists. It is written in the finest tradition of medical literature. Anyone with even a passing interest in disease investigation will find Deadly Outbreaks to be a great read. So too will all practitioners of public health, from students contemplating a career in epidemiology to the most seasoned veteran.” (Stephen Ostroff, M.D., Former Deputy Director, National Center for Infectious Diseases, CDC and Former Director, Bureau of Epidemiology, Pennsylvania Department of Health)
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Skyhorse Publishing; 1 edition (September 1, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1626360359
  • ISBN-13: 978-1626360358
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 6 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #210,557 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Alexandra Levitt is a health scientist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) who began her scientific career as a molecular biologist at the New York University School of Medicine. During a fellowship year as an American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Diplomacy Fellow assigned to the US Department of State, Dr. Levitt coordinated a government-wide review of the global health and security threat posed by emerging infectious diseases. Since joining the CDC in 1995, she has prepared policy reports on global health, bioterrorism, and pandemic influenza, and drafted critical case studies of large and unusual outbreak responses, including the 1993 outbreak of hantavirus pulmonary syndrome in the United States and the 1995 outbreak of Ebola hemorrhagic fever in Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo). Dr. Levitt resides in Brooklyn, New York.

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By David on January 27, 2014
Format: Hardcover
While there have been notable books about public health for sometime (e.g. "The Hot Zone" and "The Coming Plague"), I've noticed an upsurge in interest lately. Quite a few of my friends have been reading books such as "The Ghost Map", about a famous cholera outbreak in London, and "The American Plague," about solving the mystery of yellow fever's transmission.

Now, add to that "Deadly Outbreaks" by Dr. Levitt. If the above mentioned books can be compared to a novel, think about this book as a collection of short stories. As previous reviewers have mentioned, you will likely know the basics about a couple of the stories, while many of them will be new to you. The narrative ranges from a disease in New York putting multiple patients into the ICU to a deadly outbreak in the deserts of New Mexico. Though obviously a shorter story necessarily sacrifices some depth, the use of multiple stories allows for a layering effect that leads to a better appreciation of both the hard work and sheer luck involved in these investigations.

There is the excitement of a good mystery, solved using the latest in scientific principles; but, there is also something deeper, namely an elucidation of the complex processes that go into the work of these disease detectives. While I've read previous books that make an attempt at this, "Deadly Outbreaks" is the first book that really makes me feel as though I understand the fundamental methods of a modern public health investigation (at a very basic level of course). At the same time, I never felt as though the narrative degenerated into a morass of medical jargon. You will learn some basic public health terminology, but more as a way of allowing you deeper into the narrative, rather than for show.

I would recommend this to both those who are new to the subject, as well as those looking for a new perspective on public health investigations. Enjoy!
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By kenn on November 29, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Lots of fascinating background on the detective work of modern scientists.

I enjoyed the science and was impressed by the amount of sheer work invested in solving these mysterious diseases. The lucky moments, the ultimate success of persistence, the evolution of scientific tools — all these fascinated me. The degree to which pathogen experts see the world through a pathogen lens seemed telling. I was less interested in the background information on individual scientists. I suspect that's exactly the opposite reaction of many readers who will love the humanizing effect of knowing where a scientist went to college, and who they married and a bit about hobbies and children and careers.

The narrative voice got stronger as the book progressed, so I encourage the casual reader to press onward if they start to feel overwhelmed early. The occasional use of less common vocabulary and numerous abbreviations may discourage some readers. Do you know what an abattoir is without looking it up? I didn't. For me, that's fun; a new word to learn. To some, it may not be fun and they'll wonder why the author didn't just say "slaughterhouse," which all her readers would know. It doesn't happen often, and didn't really detract. I just noticed it.

I absolutely recommend this book for anyone interested in science or disease. I'm sure that, just like me, you'll learn some interesting details about health scares you've heard about, and some you haven't.

Kenn Amdahl, author of "Revenge of the Pond Scum: Searching for the causes of Alzheimer's Disease, Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) and Parkinson's Disease"
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Amy R. on September 24, 2013
Format: Hardcover
ScienceThrillers review: Dr. Alexandra Levitt narrates the true stories of seven medical mysteries solved by field epidemiologists, investigators for the CDC's Epidemic Intelligence Service. These stories demonstrate the importance, danger, and excitement of public health efforts to understand infectious disease outbreaks and other disease clusters. Levitt unashamedly admits that one goal of this book is to inspire young people to consider careers in public health.

On that count, Deadly Outbreaks succeeds. Put this book in the hands of a high schooler who already is thinking about a STEM career and you might make a convert.

Personally, I love this stuff. Several of these stories I'd heard before (the Sin Nombre virus, Legionnaire's Disease) but I was delighted to read in more detail about the scientist/physician/detectives who actually were on the ground in the center of these outbreaks, trying to assemble the knowledge needed to stop the deaths. Most of the tales were new to me and carried a lot of emotional impact. Babies dying in a Canadian hospital. Laborers paralyzed by work in a pig slaughterhouse.

This is a fascinating book, easy to read in one chapter pieces, perfect for the bedside table. It's competently written but it doesn't have the narrative genius of a Malcolm Gladwell or Mary Roach popular science book. It also has a fair amount of real science in it. Thus I recommend this book for science thriller fans, but it might not appeal to readers who do not have a pre-existing interest in the subject matter.

FCC disclaimer: An advance reader copy of this book was given to me for review. As always, I made no guarantee that I would read the book or post a positive review.
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