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Secret Agents: The Menace Of Emerging Infections

by Madeline Drexler

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About Book

The world's worst bioterrorist isn't the murderer who put anthrax spores into mail in the fall of 2001; it's Mother Nature, writes Madeline Drexler in this survey of infectious diseases. They're all here, described in detail from historical, scientific, and public-health perspectives: AIDS, influenza, the West Nile virus, and so on. Secret Agents is a good primer on each. The best chapter--and the scariest--may be the last one, which covers bioterrorism of the human variety (i.e., not Mother Nature). "If bioterrorists released smallpox virus, it would ... become a global calamity within six weeks," she writes. That's not even the scariest possibility: "Researchers estimate that as little as one gram of aerosolized botox could kill more than 1.5 million people." And there are no easy preventive measures. "Of the 50 top bioweapon pathogens, only 13 have vaccines or treatments." Because of this, Drexler calls for a massive increase in public-health funding. Without that, our doctors and hospitals will be unprepared for a disaster they may be able to anticipate right now. --John Miller

From Library Journal
"The most menacing bioterrorist is Mother Nature herself," declares science journalist Drexler. She backs up her argument with stories of infectious microorganisms from ancient plagues to HIV. Antibiotic-resistant tuberculosis, newly recognized infectious agents like Creutzfeldt-Jakob-causing prions, and predictions of a postantibiotic era create a chilling story of a future in which surgery is no longer safe and treatments for even the simplest infectious diseases are no longer available. Drexler includes chapters on food-borne and insect-borne disease, the 1918 flu pandemic, and bioterrorism. One of the most interesting chapters is on the possible connection between infectious agents and chronic diseases like heart disease and schizophrenia. Though similar in scope to Philip Tierno's Germs (LJ 1/02), this book focuses more on general public health issues and less on day-to-day actions that individuals can take to prevent illness. Most public libraries will want both because of the current interest in bioterrorism. Elizabeth Williams, Fresno City Coll. Lib., CA
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

From Booklist
Science reporter Drexler launches this fascinating, thought-provoking book with a lively account of the dangerous West Nile virus, overseas and in the U.S., as the lead-in to an examination of zoonoses, or diseases that spread from animals to humans. She shows that the U.S. food supply is often unregulated and that food companies and agents are infrequently penalized for gross mishandling. She castigates sloppy hospital hygiene, pointing out that antibiotics have yet to eliminate any infectious disease, that there is a vaccine or an effective treatment for just 13 of the 50 pathogens most likely to be used by bioterrorists, and that underfunded, understaffed hospitals aren't able to respond adequately to bioterrorism. She also introduces some innovative researchers in public health, such as Brent Muhlestein, who has investigated chlamydia as a possible cause of cardiac plaque, and wife-and-husband Yuan Chang and Patrick Moore, who have demonstrated a viral causation of Kaposi's sarcoma. Throughout, Drexler decries inadequate U.S. support of public health planning, programs, and research. A substantial contribution to public information about infectious diseases. William Beatty
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

American Journal of Public Health, 2004
"[Secret Agents] relates in 'short story' format the human element behind recent outbreaks and breakthroughs in EID [emerging infectious diseases]."

A must read. Drexler's chapters read like dispatches from a war. (The Baltimore Sun)

Thomas Inglesby, M.D., Deputy Director, Johns Hopkins Center for Civilian Biodefense Strategies
“A highly compelling narrative.”

"...an authoritative, well-paced, vividly written book that will scare the pants off you... Drexler has produced a fascinating book."

USA TODAY, February 2002
"...Drexler's gripping book is an especially readable account of the dangerous common ground where man and microbes meet."

The Baltimore Sun, March 2002
"Secret Agents takes its place as a must-read for the latest on this crucial health issue. ...authoritative, compelling ... vivid."

Science, February 2002
"Lively and well-researched...Secret Agents is much more than a market-attuned contemporary thriller."

Cleveland Plain Dealer, February 2002
"Drexler does an admirable job...She is particularly good at drawing little portraits of the book's heroes..."

Publishers Weekly, February 2002
"...engrossing overview... Drexler is skilled at making the biology of pathogens accessible to general readers."

The Washington Post, March 2002
"...well-written, well-researched ...a fine and valuable effort."

Book Description
As timely as it is urgent, this well-researched book from veteran science journalist Madeline Drexler delivers a compelling report on today's most ominous infectious disease threats. She focuses on a different danger in each chapter-from the looming risk of lethal influenza to in-depth information on the public health perils posed by bioterrorism. With a novelist's descriptive eye and a thriller writer's sense of tension, she warns us that the most ceaselessly creative bioterrorist is still Mother Nature, whose microbial operatives are all around us, ready to pounce when conditions are right.

Book Info
Gives an account of the research and history about today's ominous infectious disease threats. Each chapter tells the story of a different danger. Argues that now is the time to beef up a long-neglected public health system.

From the Inside Flap
"Secret Agents skillfully captures the frontline experience in the battle between humans and deadly, ever-changing microbes. This book is hard to put down." — Michael Osterholm, Ph.D., Director, University of Minnesota Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy and co-author of Living Terrors

"Like a painting by Hieronymus Bosch, Secret Agents is a panorama teeming with miniatures that make the blood run cold. An authoritative book for an anxious age." — Patricia Thomas, author of Big Shot: Passion, Politics, and the Struggle for an AIDS Vaccine

"Drexler tells the real story behind public health investigations -- a story of difficult characters, lapses in cooperation, and ugly turf battles. A valuable exposé." — Frederick A. Murphy, D.V.M, Ph.D, former Director, National Center for Infectious Diseases, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, co-discoverer of the Ebola virus

About the Author
Madeline Drexler is a science and medical journalist. Formerly a medical columnist for The Boston Globe Magazine, she was a 1996-1997 Knight Science Journalism Fellow at MIT. She was awarded the 1992 International Biomedical Science Journalism Prize by the General Motors Cancer Research Foundation. Her articles have appeared in The New York Times, The American Prospect, Self, Good Housekeeping, and many other national publications.



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