Books on Bird Flu: An Appraisal
Everything You Need To Know About Bird Flu by John Farndon (2005)
John Farndon is a science writer and has a clear accessible style. He covers basic concepts succinctly. At just 125 small pages it is an excellent introduction to the topic.
Everything You Need To Know About Bird Flu & What You Can Do To Prepare For It by Jo Revill (2005)
Jo Revill is a journalist who writes for the Observer. This too is an interesting book - not so much for the basic science but for its study of the political reaction to the threat. It is written (unsurprisingly) in the 'investigative journalist' style - giving quite worrying statistics and predictions - and has a very useful glossary of terms at the back. It quotes from a wide variety of scientists with greatly differing opinions and its conclusion is that a flu pandemic is inevitable.
The book then goes on to give detailed practical advice on how to prepare a family of adults and children for when a serious flu contagion is at large: hands should be washed regularly, floors, door handles and surfaces should be frequently disinfected and coughs and sneezes should be directed into tissues which are then disposed of in bins which are themselves thoroughly cleaned and disinfected. A person with flu should not attempt to go to work or prepare food for others but should take to their bed - to be looked after by another family member at a distance.
Jo Revill also suggests accumulating a box of tinned and dried food, bottled water, disinfectant, tissues and basic medical supplies in case of enforced quarantine or if the social order temporarily breaks down.
This sort of thinking is condemned in the next book: Bird Flu: Everything You Need To Know About The Next Pandemic by Marc Siegel MD (2006). Dr Siegel is a medical practitioner in New York city and although he acknowledges that there is a small chance that there could be a devastating flu pandemic he is sceptical that there will actually be one. Just because bird flu (H5N1) is lethal and infectious in domesticated birds, he says, it does not mean it will be similarly lethal in humans. In order to become a virus that is easily transmitted from one human to another it will have to mutate - and that mutation could well cause the virus to become less malign.
He then points out that hoarding supplies of the drug Tamiflu (which if taken early enough can mitigate effects of current flu) is fairly useless since it not only has a limited shelf-life, but is highly likely to be ineffective against the mutated humanised form anyway.
He says that it is the various recent scares concerning SARS, anthrax, West Nile virus, and mad cow disease that are pandemic and it is this that kills. He cites various examples of patients who have come to his surgery in New York desperately worried about the recent 'germ du jour'. They demand vaccinations and drugs against a peril they are unlikely to ever encounter. It is a widespread paranoia: one of my mother's friends in Leicestershire nagged her doctor into providing her with a course of Tamiflu although she had no symptoms whatsoever. Anxiety is a killer; it is thought to increase the incidence of strokes, heart disease, depression and even cancer and it is this that should concern us the most. These pandemics exist around us now and we can do something about them by ensuring we have a healthy lifestyle and keeping things in proportion.
Our best strategy against flu he says would be to increase our capability of making effective vaccines quickly using new cell technology (instead of the current long-winded method of incubating chicken embryos), and having done that use our 'personal fear radar' against the infectious diseases that already kill veraciously - AIDS (3 million deaths world-wide), tuberculosis (2 million) and malaria (1 million).