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Superbug: The Fatal Menace of MRSA [Hardcover]

Maryn McKenna
4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (29 customer reviews)

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Book Description

March 23, 2010 141655727X 978-1416557272 1
LURKING in our homes, hospitals, schools, and farms is a terrifying pathogen that is evolving faster than the medical community can track it or drug developers can create antibiotics to quell it. That pathogen is MRSA—methicillin-resistant Staphyloccocus aureus—and Superbug is the first book to tell the story of its shocking spread and the alarming danger it poses to us all.

Doctors long thought that MRSA was confined to hospitals and clinics, infecting almost exclusively those who were either already ill or old. But through remarkable reporting, including hundreds of interviews with the leading researchers and doctors tracking the deadly bacterium, acclaimed science journalist Maryn McKenna reveals the hidden history of MRSA’s relentless advance—how it has overwhelmed hospitals, assaulted families, and infiltrated agriculture and livestock, moving inexorably into the food chain. Taking readers into the medical centers where frustrated physicians must discard drug after drug as they struggle to keep patients alive, she discloses an explosion of cases that demonstrate how MRSA is growing more virulent, while evolving resistance to antibiotics with astonishing speed. It may infect us at any time, no matter how healthy we are; it is carried by a stunning number of our household pets; and it has been detected in food animals from cows to chickens to pigs.

With the sensitivity of a novelist, McKenna portrays the emotional and financial devastation endured by MRSA’s victims, vividly describing the many stealthy ways in which the pathogen overtakes the body and the shock and grief of parents whose healthy children were felled by infection in just hours. Through dogged detective work, she discloses the unheard warnings that predicted the current crisis and lays bare the flaws that have allowed MRSA to rage out of control: misplaced government spending, inadequate public health surveillance, misguided agricultural practices, and vast overuse of the few precious drugs we have left.

Empowering readers with the knowledge they need for self-defense, Superbug sounds an alarm: MRSA has evolved into a global emergency that touches almost every aspect of modern life. It is, as one deeply concerned researcher tells McKenna, "the biggest thing since AIDS."

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Via several real-life firsthand accounts, public-health journalist McKenna lays bare, often all too graphically, the ravages of a disease with the potential to do grievous international harm because there is virtually no known treatment for it. Although humans and staphylococci have been close travelling companions virtually forever, and those pesky germs occasionally make our travels difficult, once upon a time scientists believed they had discovered the key to stifling staph infections forever: antibiotics. Case closed. But not so fast. There is a particularly feisty, methicillin-resistant strain, staphylococcus aureus, aka MRSA, that apparently has plans to outlast and outlive by outsmarting just about every known antibiotic thrown at it. First thought to reside solely within the walls of hospitals and to affect those with severely compromised immune systems, MRSA surreptitiously evolved a street persona. With the bacteria’s quick-changing, deadly brothers lurking in hospitals, gyms, and locker rooms, experts at the epicenter of research report that the hunt for a vaccine may be a last-ditch strategy to fend off a wily predator. --Donna Chavez


“A gripping account of one of the most devastating infectious agents on the planet...A meticulously researched, frightening report on a deadly pathogen.” —Kirkus

“[McKenna] has written a meticulously detailed account of MRSA… hits like a sledgehammer and outlines the past, present and future of the bacteria.” —The Washington Examiner

“During her years as a reporter covering the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Maryn McKenna grew accustomed to being called ‘Scary Disease Girl,’ the bearer of titillating tales of exotic ailments unlikely to affect most people. McKenna’s new book, Superbug, is less deliciously frightening and more just plain scary.” —Chicago Tribune

“Where will the next major epidemic come from? According to Superbug, that epidemic is already here.” — Boing Boing --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Free Press; 1 edition (March 23, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 141655727X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1416557272
  • Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 6.2 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.5 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (29 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #823,467 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Maryn McKenna is a journalist, author and blogger who writes about domestic and global public health, infectious disease, and food policy, but it's OK with her if you just call her Scary Disease Girl, since almost everyone else does.

She has reported from inside a field hospital in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina, a village on Thailand's west coast that was erased by the Indian Ocean tsunami, a CDC team investigating the anthrax-letter attacks on Capitol Hill, a graveyard within the Arctic Circle that held victims of the 1918 flu, a malaria hospital in Malawi, an isolation ward for multi-drug resistant TB in Vietnam and a polio-eradication team in India. She untangled birds from mist nets during the first US outbreaks of West Nile virus, triggered the first Congressional hearings on Gulf War Syndrome, and pried loose enough hidden history at a closed nuclear-weapons plant to help local residents win a nuclear-harm lawsuit against the US government.

She is the author of the newly published SUPERBUG: The Fatal Menace of MRSA (Free Press/Simon & Schuster, 2010), an investigation of the global epidemic of drug-resistant staph, and BEATING BACK THE DEVIL: On the Front Lines with the Disease Detectives of the Epidemic Intelligence Service (FP/S&S, 2004), a narrative history of the CDC's disease detectives that was named a Top Science Book by Amazon and an Outstanding Academic Title by the American Library Association.

She is a blogger for Wired, writes for SELF, More, Health and other national magazines, and is a regular contributor to the Annals of Emergency Medicine. Previously, she was a staff reporter at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the Boston Herald, and the Cincinnati Enquirer, and a contributing writer at the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy of the University of Minnesota.

She has a bachelor's from Georgetown University, a master's from Northwestern University, and has won numerous journalism awards. She has been a fellow with the Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma at Columbia University, the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, the East-West Center of Honolulu, the Knight-Wallace Program of the University of Michigan, Harvard Medical School and the Casey Journalism Center for Children and Families at the University of Maryland. She teaches science writing in the U.S. and Asia.

She lives in Minneapolis and Atlanta, and occasionally in Maine and France, and almost always has latex gloves and a face-mask somewhere close by

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
33 of 36 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Science Book That Reads Like A Novel March 25, 2010
Based on my background in biological science, I was very, very excited to get this book, and I was not disappointed.

Maryn McKenna's new book SUPERBUG, deals with the development of MRSA (Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus), which is also known as a superbug, it is multiple-drug resistant and impressively deadly. It takes massive amounts of drugs with often serious side-effects to even have a chance of beating it.

Historically, MRSA was a disease of hospitals, and only in people that were already suffering from a weakened immune system - but that is no longer the case. A new strain has come up that affects people who have not had any contact with hospitals. It is known as community-acquired MRSA, and is surprisingly lethal.

McKenna's style is aptly suited to this type of book, as there is a lot of medical jargon that requires a deft hand to explain to people with little to no knowledge in that particular area. This is accomplished through what I can only describe as a massive amount of interviews and research with individuals whose lives have been affected by MRSA.

This book raises a lot of issues regarding the sanitary procedures performed at hospitals, the over-prescription of antibiotics in both people and animals, and the sheer speed in which MRSA can adapt.

Reading this book may seem like some sort of scare tactic, and it is. But it is the sort of thing people NEED to hear. McKenna uses people whose lives have been affected by MRSA to tell the story, and only breaks away from the narrative for context.

Simply put, it is a superbly written science book that reads like a novel.
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19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Everyone in America should be reading this book May 6, 2010
I discovered Ms. McKenna's book via an NPR radio interview. I'm a registered nurse and had been helping an old friend for the last nine months fight CA-MRSA. He has been reinfected over six times in those nine months. When I began reading Superbug, I could barely finish one chapter at a sitting. The information contained in this book is so powerful and well researched, I had to let it all soak in before moving on to the next chapter. Ms. McKenna not only gives us the facts about MRSA, she captures us with her heart wrenching stories of the pain this "superbug" has caused in so many lives. I highly recommend reading this book and taking the precautions necessary to decrease the spread of this dreaded bacteria.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An engaging read with something for everyone March 30, 2010
Superbug, along with Beating Back the Devil, cements Maryn McKenna's status as one of the most readable and enjoyable writers of our time covering infectious disease topics. This book details the public health threat of MRSA through the use of frightening individual experiences, behind-the-scenes research narratives, and well-written explanations of the ever-changing epidemiology of MRSA, all in eloquent yet readable detail.

I believe there is something new in this book for anyone, whether it is read by a physician, investigator, nurse, student, or even the armchair philosopher. I'd absolutely recommend the book to anyone working in a clinical science or practice that deals with MRSA on a daily basis, or to any students considering careers in the health sciences! After working for 2.5 years side-by-side with Staph researchers in an MRSA lab, I must say I was quite impressed with how completely McKenna recounts the unfolding of the MRSA epidemic and updates the reader with current topics in MRSA research and epidemiology. It really put my work and education into context in a few hundred pages, and I have no doubt others will gain from reading this book!
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Superbug Will Scare the Hell Out of You June 13, 2010
Often, the books that frighten me the most aren't horror novels. Instead, I'm more likely to be disturbed after reading texts detailing real-life threats, especially dangers that are under reported and not taken seriously.

So it's probably no surprise that Superbug: The Fatal Menace of MRSA scared the hell out of me. As the text's title indicates, Superbug is all about MRSA, a bacterium responsible for a range of difficult-to-treat infections. MRSA stands for Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus but is commonly labeled as staph, or, more appropriately, drug-resistant staph. It is especially dangerous because is has developed resistance to many antibiotic drugs that are normally used to counter bacterial infections. In this sense, MRSA has become more drug-resistant in part because of our societal overuse of antibiotics.

There are a variety of strains and manifestations of MRSA, from minor skin infections to severe necrotizing or flesh bacteria syndrome. The fear with MRSA, as author Maryn McKenna conveys, is that we may be approaching a MRSA strain, or superbug, that's untreatable.

The book doesn't offer much consolation or conclude with a silver bullet that's on its way to defeat MRSA, although the author does touch on some of the current research exploring MRSA vaccines and mentions some of the tactics used in preventive MRSA screening.

As a reading experience, Superbug was accessible and well-paced. The author smartly alternated between true stories of people with MRSA to more technical passages that delved into the history and science behind the bug. There were some spots that were a little too esoteric for me, but, overall, Maryn McKenna is a fluid and accomplished writer and I learned a lot.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Informative read
I liked the addition of case studies to this information rich book. Some of the details of cases were irrelevant, but brought the people to the forefront of stories. Read more
Published 3 months ago by Mari Lehtimaki
5.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyed it.
I really liked this book, I found it very informative. Gross subject matter, so if you have a queasy stomach, buyer beware.
Published 3 months ago by Greek Myth Reader
3.0 out of 5 stars Book more suitable as a hard back
I read this book with much interest, and some tears. It was informative, sometimes heartbreaking, and very readable, however, half of the book is reference material, and a hard... Read more
Published 6 months ago by Lois H. Palmer
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent!
I thought I knew a good deal about MRSA but this book was an eye opener. Well researched and well written.
Published 6 months ago by William R. Jones
5.0 out of 5 stars Will scare you and educate you
This book covers the history of MRSA. it also explains what is happening now in the communities, hospitals, prisons and Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) in regards to... Read more
Published 9 months ago by facade2u
5.0 out of 5 stars Scary as Anything by Stephen King!
The book opens by covering the experience of a 13-year-old Chicago youngster who developed increasing swelling and pain from a minor scrape incurred playing basketball. Read more
Published 11 months ago by Loyd E. Eskildson
5.0 out of 5 stars A Must Read Text Book For MRSA/MSSA
I never thought much about Superbugs until my husband caught MSSA at a hospital, during his open heart surgery. Read more
Published 14 months ago by Cathie Miller
5.0 out of 5 stars An eye opener, very clearly written
The author does an excellent job of documenting the progression and evolution of this deadly, opportunistic, nasty bacteria. Read more
Published 14 months ago by Miss Nomi
5.0 out of 5 stars No Miracle Cures in Modern Medicine
As a retired Clinical and Public Health Microbiologist, I can say that this writer knows the subject. So I can recommend this book. Read more
Published 14 months ago by George D. Smith
5.0 out of 5 stars Learn the Facts
Surprising story on Infections. Having grown up in this time, I now know that we had this. Makes you be more careful today.
Published 14 months ago by Michele C. Barnes
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