Deadly Outbreaks

  • by Alexandra Levitt
  • Narrated by Julie McKay
  • 9 hrs and 28 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

Publisher's Summary

Take a visit to the frontline as scientists fight to solve medical mysteries.
Despite advances in health care, infectious microbes continue to be a formidable adversary to scientists and doctors. Vaccines and antibiotics, the mainstays of modern medicine, have not been able to conquer infectious microbes because of their amazing ability to adapt, evolve, and spread to new places. Terrorism aside, one of the greatest dangers from infectious disease we face today is from a massive outbreak of drug-resistant microbes.
Deadly Outbreaks recounts the scientific adventures of a special group of intrepid individuals who investigate these outbreaks around the world and figure out how to stop them. Part homicide detective, part physician, these medical investigators must view the problem from every angle, exhausting every possible source of contamination. Any data gathered in the field must be stripped of human sorrows and carefully analyzed into hard statistics.
Author Dr. Alexandra Levitt is an expert on emerging diseases and other public health threats. Here she shares insider accounts she's collected that go behind the alarming headlines we've seen in the media: mysterious food poisonings, unexplained deaths at a children's hospital, a strange neurologic disease afflicting slaughterhouse workers, flocks of birds dropping dead out of the sky, and drug-resistant malaria running rampant in a refugee camp. Meet the resourceful investigators - doctors, veterinarians, and research scientists - and discover the truth behind these cases and more.


Audible Editor Reviews

Alexandra Levitt is an expert in emergent diseases and public health issues. In this audiobook, she relays information and stories on the complex and fascinating subject of infectious microbes. Julie McKay narrates with a deliberate, clear voice, which will help listeners grasp the intricacies of the subject. The chapters are organized by microbial strains, and each chapter gives background on the known facts of the particular microbe, as well public policy and history related to it. While the subject of the audio is scientific, Levitt pries into all related areas: homicide, deadly outbreaks, and the successes and failures of those people working to stop these invisible, deadly killers. Listeners will be shocked and terrified by what they will learn - but ultimately grateful to be more informed.


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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

Not the top of the class...

Although this book deals with a subject which I find endlessly fascinating, I must conclude it was a disappointment.

The writing is uninspired and sloppy. Perhaps the author would have benefited from a co-author with more varied and interesting prose style, or at least a keen-eyed editor. One glaring mess that stand out in my mind is when a patient with Hanta virus is described as "going into cardiac arrest, and shock." Pretty sure that should be the other way around, which I assume the author knows. Unfortunately, careless errors like that make it hard to lend much credence.

I'm not sure if the print version is any more enjoyable but this was not a good audio version. Narrated by Julie McKay, it is delivered like an instruction manual for assembling furniture. She spells out abbreviations and acronyms constantly ("U-S-A-M-R-I-I-D") instead of utilizing common pronunciations. Her pronunciation of medical terminology leaves a lot to be desired. These things may sound nit-picky, but anyone who reads a lot of audiobooks knows that a narrator can make or break a book!

There are many interesting books on epidemiology; this is just not one of them. "Beating Back the Devil" by Maryn McKenna is a much better book dealing with EIS, and "Spillover" by David Quammen is a really engaging read dealing specifically with diseases that cross over from animal reservoirs. I would recommend both of those a hundred times over "Deadly Outbreaks."
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- Carolyn

Watching the Detectives Save Some Lives

When my son was in kindergarten, I read him Dian Dincin Buchman, PhD's "Deadly Medical Mysteries: How They Were Solved" (2000). It is a wonderful book of short, true detective stories, 10 to 20 pages each, in easy kids' words. My son loved it so much he took it to school on Book Share Day. One of his favorite stories was how Lyme disease was isolated by two mothers comparing their kids' symptoms in Lyme, Connecticut.

Alexandra Levitt, MD's "Deadly Outbreaks: How Medical Detectives Save Lives Threatened by Killer Pandemics, Exotic Viruses, and Drug-Resistant Parasites" (2013) has the much lengthier and complex story of how Centers for Disease Control scientist Willy Burgdorfer, MD (1925 - 2014) isolated a tick-borne bacteria that's now called Borrelia burgdorferi in his honor. It's an important lesson in thinking outside the box - well, actually, in Burgdorfer's case, thinking inside an entirely different box because his training was in Rickettsial diseases. Burgdorfer intuitively used an approach in culturing the bacterium that a non-Rickettsial trained scientist wouldn't have used, and it worked.

Burgdorfer's work on Lyme disease was long, exacting and necessary, which contrasts with the 1983 work done by epidemiologists Patrick McConnon and Roland Sutter. They were trying to source a malarial outbreak in Cambodian refugee camps that only affected men in their 20's and 30's. The scientists conducted interviews, drew blood, and puzzled endlessly over the cause. A casual conversation with a camp worker solved the mystery months later: the malarial men, who'd developed a drug resistant strain, were gun runners for the Khemer Rouge. They contracted the disease from jungle sources, not at camps. That's an important lesson that while medical research and analysis is important, boots on the ground, taking to people can be at least as important.

"Deadly Outbreaks" is also the history of the CDC's Epidemiologic Intelligence Services (EIS). It's a nifty program for statisticians, doctors, veterinarians, and epidemiologists to learn how to determine what's causing a disease and to track outbreaks. There's a thorough discussion of how applied statistics are used to track diseases. The story of sourcing Legionnaire's disease and locating its reservoir was a fascinating demonstration of statistics in action.

The book did tend to wander down tangents that are particularly hard to follow on an Audible book. And it got repetitive at times, perhaps because each chapter may be meant to stand alone.

The narration - well - parts of it drove me nuts. The narrator's voice was fine, but she mispronounced some biological words. One particular pet peeve: USAMRIID, for United States Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases. The narrator says it as each individual letter. It's commonly pronounced as u-Sam-rid. Grammatically, either way is acceptable - but reading off the acronym letter-by-letter jars the narration.

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- Cynthia "Always moving. Always listening. Always learning. "After all this time?" "Always.""

Book Details

  • Release Date: 09-01-2013
  • Publisher: Audible Studios