Beating Back the Devil: On the Front Lines with the Disease Detectives of the Epidemic Intelligence Service Audio CD – Audiobook, CD, Unabridged
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About the Author
Maryn McKenna is an award-winning science and medical writer and author of Beating Back the Devil: On the Front Lines with the Disease Detectives of the Epidemic Intelligence Service" (named one of the top 10 science books of 2004 by Amazon). She currently works as a contributing writer for the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota and is a media fellow at the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. She is a graduate of Georgetown University and the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University, and has also studied at Harvard Medical School. She lives in Minneapolis. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.
Among candidates for world's worst job, disease detective ranks pretty high. In Beating Back the Devil, Maryn McKenna examines the everyday fascinations and horrors faced by the CDC's Epidemic Intelligence Service. On a few hours' notice, these physicians are ready to travel anywhere in the world to track down new medical threats. McKenna writes about the group's response to such frightening incidents as the first outbreaks of Ebola and SARS. In matter-of-fact, first-person narratives, EIS doctors tell how they deal with crises brought on not only by biological threats, but by public health mismanagement, terrorism, and war. One doctor describes trying to save children while working in conflict-torn Zaire:
"We would go into a center and find kids lying on the floor, severely dehydrated, with a clogged IV," he said. "Then we would go outside and find the relief workers building a stone fireplace.... And we'd have to say, Hot meals would be great, but in a few days you're not going to have any living kids to cook meals for.... Take this oral rehydration solution and sit by this child and spoon it into his mouth.... Don't do anything else, or this child is going to be dead."McKenna's research is painstakingly meticulous, and the doctors she profiles come across as brave firefighters of microbiological conflagrations. Not since Sherwin Nuland has an author so effectively revealed the dramatic side of medicine. --Therese Littleton, Amazon.com --This text refers to the Paperback edition. See all Product Description
Top Customer Reviews
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
McKenna begins her book with the first day of training for the EIS class of 2002 and follows many of them through their two years of service, but she does not limit her narrative to the stories of these health care workers. She reaches back in time to various outbreaks and interviews former EIS agents instrumental in detecting and controlling the spread of infection. While this book does not have the narrative drive and heart palpitating scenes of The Hot Zone, it is nonetheless a compelling portrait of disease. The chapter on SARS in particular illustrates the danger that these health care professionals face. Written for the lay person, this book never gets technical and so might disappoint those who want in-depth analysis instead of detective work.
For those with a general interest in epidemiology, Beating Back the Devil offers insight into disease detection. Its content is not nearly as hyperbolic as its title, and it provides a solid, though somewhat superficial, look into public health. Its strength lies in the anecdotal nature of each chapter -- the personalities of the EIS agents, the conditions they face, and, sometimes, the politics and fear that threaten to allow an infectious agent to take hold in the population.
This book just was not the riveting reading that I found in Laurie Garret's books, or the book on the 1918 influenza, or "The Hot Zone" by Preston. The book is well-written, and less melodramatic as some of these books are, and I would not be adverse to recommending this as reading for public health students. It is just not as interesting as these other books mentioned, probably because I read those books first...
University of Pittsburgh
McKenna covers the history and activities of the Epidemic Intelligence Service (EIS), which is a branch of the CDC. These people, who are considered a branch of the military, sign up for a stint which involves intensive training, personal risk, and the knowledge that they may be sent anywhere in the world with a single phone call and no notice. It's the people in this group that were on the front lines of discovering and fighting Ebola, AIDS, and hantavirus. The author generally follows a specific group of EIS personnel through their adventures (but not exclusively), so you get to know and understand the personal costs of this type of work. It's truly amazing that we have people in this country that are willing to risk everything to keep us safe from things we can not see and may not be able to protect ourselves from. Since many of the disease episodes are relatively recent, it's easy to relate to what's going on in the story, and McKenna does a good job in bringing it all to life. This is probably one of the advantages of this book over The Coming Plague. Beating helps cover that ten year gap since Plague was published.
If the subject of disease detection and control is of interest to you, Beating Back The Devil is a must-read...
Without trying to artificially ramp up the suspense, McKenna covers the work of a handful of EIS members in public health emergencies both foreign and domestic, which occurred decades ago and in the recent past, as well as tracking the experiences of a new class of EIS members.
I read the book for pleasure, and wasn't disappointed. And I learned from it. I now comprehend more of the complexities faced by epidemiologists in tracking disease outbreaks in today's world. And now I know what the US Surgeon General does - and that there's a corps of commissioned medical officers which the Surgeon General heads.
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