Science fiction and fantasy                                            

The Viral Storm

by Nathan D. Wolfe

The Viral Storm is the stuff of nightmares. Nathan D. Wolfe has spent decades studying viruses and how they spread, and what he has discovered is in some ways terrifying. But what is more worrying is what scientists haven't discovered yet.

New viruses are found every year, and often they originate in other animal species before crossing over into humans. The author gives an account of how these minute organisms work and what they do to survive in cellular hosts. Then he explains the natural behaviour of monkeys and apes when it comes to hunting meat, and the effect this has on the diseases they are infected with. This leads to an illuminating account of SIV in monkeys, which in turn infects chimps, and is related to HIV in humans.

The more closely related two species are, the more likely it is that a virus will be able to infect both species. So apes are a focus for viral research, and they feature heavily in this book. There's also an account of domestication of animals which began around 30,000 years ago, and the effect that has had on our shared microbes. By looking at prehistory the author builds a compelling case for his future predictions.

Human mobility around the globe is a factor in the spread of a number of diseases, and details about the effect of air travel, new roads, and a fungus causing massive frog deaths and even extinctions is enough to make you want to stay at home and never set foot on a plane or public transport.

At the same time, modern living and modern medicine have introduced new ways for viruses to enter our bodies, including tattoos, blood infusions, transplants, animal transplants, unsafe injections, and unsafe vaccines. Although modern screening has meant that great strides have been made towards eliminating infections, the history of these medical procedures is shocking, particularly when you consider how many viruses remain to be discovered.

The book touches on what terror groups might do to create a pandemic. There's also an account of how a super-spreader kicked off the SARS outbreak, and also how immunosuppression, mostly due to AIDS, could allow animal viruses to adapt to humans and spread more easily.

There are chapters on the difficulty of prevention and prediction, and the limitations of technology to recognise viruses, detect them, and track their spread. However, the author ends on an optimistic note, with a section on the potential of "gentle" viruses and a look at some promising solutions for tracking and preventing pandemics.

Viruses are inherently fascinating. We've been locked in a battle to the death with them for as long as humans have existed, as have our ancestors throughout prehistory, and they come in amazing variety. Nathan D. Wolfe does the topic justice with an accessible and exciting narrative that is also informative. Never dry, this book is the result of deep study across a range of subjects, and it's well worth delving into if you want to learn more about viruses. However, it's likely to make you want to wash your hands.

25th April 2018

Book Details

Year: 2011

Categories: Books


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Source: own copy