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In 1918, a world war raged, and a lethal strain of influenza circled the globe. In the midst of all this death, a bizarre disease appeared in Europe. Eventually known as encephalitis lethargica, or sleeping sickness, it spread worldwide, leaving millions dead or locked in institutions. Then, in 1927, it disappeared as suddenly as it had arrived. Asleep, set in 1920s and '30s New York, follows a group of neurologists through hospitals and asylums as they try to solve this epidemic and treat its victims - who learned the worst fate was not dying of it, but surviving it.
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By joyce on 12-14-14
Scary, and still unsolved, medical mystery
This book about encephalitis lethargica is well researched and well written by a woman whose grandmother survived this disease, but mentally damaged. The book examines several case histories, including hers, in detail, to show the wide range of physical and behavioral symptoms that made this disease so baffling for doctors and difficult for families. Its victims, mostly young people, sickened suddenly and fell asleep, for weeks for months. Some woke eventually, some died. Some could function normally again; many suffered degrees of mental/emotional impairment; some displayed uncontrollable anger or became psychotic, suicidal, homicidal (this included small children), others remained 'frozen' like the ones Dr. Oliver Sacks found in a hospital decades after the last outbreak and wrote about in "Awakenings". During two early 20th century pandemic waves of this disease, medical researchers tried to figure out agent was causing it, how it was transmitted, how it might be cured. No luck. Was it linked to pandemic flu?
Rare, sporadic cases still occur. The author makes the point that we may be in terrible trouble if there is another pandemic flu, and another pandemic of encephalitis lethargica.
13 of 13 people found this review helpful
By Lori from Utah on 04-30-15
I like how the author not only discusses the cases of encephalopathy lethargica but she discusses what is happening in history and the environment at the same time. The environment impacts us in so many ways. This is a great nonfiction book. Who knew JP Morgan's wife had this? Loved the descriptions of late 19th century early 20th century New York.
7 of 7 people found this review helpful