When avian flu began spreading across Asia in the early 2000s, it reawakened fears that had lain dormant for nearly a century. During the outbreak's deadliest years, Alan Sipress chased the virus as it infiltrated remote jungle villages and teeming cities and saw its mysteries elude the world's top scientists.
In The Fatal Strain, Sipress details how socioeconomic and political realities in Asia make it the perfect petri dish in which the fast-mutating strain can become easily communicable among humans. Once it does, the ease and speed of international travel and worldwide economic interdependence could make it as destructive as the flu pandemic of 1918.
In his vivid portrayal of the struggle between man and microbe, Sipress gives a front-line view of the accelerating number of near misses across Asia and the terrifying truth that the prospects for this impending health crisis may well be in the hands of cockfighters, live chicken merchants, and witch doctors rather than virologists or the World Health Organization.
Like The Hot Zone and The Great Influenza, The Fatal Strain is a fast-moving account that brings the inevitability of an epidemic into a fascinating cultural, scientific, and political narrative.
The author describes how, competing with witch doctors, prejudice, and politics, researchers went into the homes of bird flu patients in Asia to collect specimens. Risking their lives, the doctors were working to determine if a virus had moved from animals to humans and if human-to-human transmission had occurred. The need to be accurate was paramount because declaring a pandemic requires consideration of the enormous economic and cultural consequences. Not known for embellishing his narrations, George Wilson takes a professional leap by giving regional accents to the Thai and Chinese participants in the story. His voices don't resemble those of Asians speaking English but we can distinguish among the various people being quoted. Wilson's slow and meticulous narration suits.
"Exemplary---and highly frightening---investigative reporting." (Kirkus)
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