Cover Image: Influenza


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Member Reviews

Let’s face it, I was very excited about this and now, two years into a modern pandemic, I am a little burned out on epidemiology. It’s not you, it’s me, I am sorry.
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Very eerie and prescient in this era of a new and deadly pandemic. Well researched and descriptive. I wonder what the author thinks of the new pandemic we are dealing with now.
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From time to time, I glance at the goodreads accounts of readers I trust, and scan for recent 5-star ratings. This book was among my findings and I decided to give it a try. The girl who recommended it is well educated, well read, and a world explorer. She's vegan, Ravenclaw, and just the other day selected House #2 on the viral Facebook post- every kind of herbal tea, a gigantic library, and cats and more cats. I'm just saying all this to establish that she's a good source for book recommendations. 

History repeats itself and it's about time we paid attention. Influenza was written by an emergency room doctor and one of the things that made this book so interesting were the similarities between our current situation and the 1918 flu.

- hygiene advice
- malaria drugs
- started in animals
- spread by people who think parades are essential
- ignorance of incubation periods
- overworked medical staff
- social distancing
- businesses hit hard
- public debate

In 1918 and 2020, the viruses originated in animals and jumped into humans. I think that provides additional evidence on the benefits of a vegan, or in my case close to vegan, lifestyle but that is a discussion for another time.

The covid-19 pandemic arrived in the United States with urgent notices to wash our hands for 20 seconds or longer along with postings of how-to videos of the serious and less serious varieties on social media. In 1918, signs were posted in public places stating: "To prevent the spread of Spanish Influenza, sneeze, cough, or expectorate into your handkerchief. You are in no danger if everyone heeds this warning." In both cases, it seems the threat was minimized and personal hygiene held up as both prevention and a panacea. 

And other proposed cures? In each pandemic, malaria drugs were proposed without any scientific evidence that they worked for the novel viruses. Initially, they were thought to reduce fevers as both influenza and malaria cause fevers. However, quinine didn't actually bring fevers down in 1918 and was sometimes given in too high of doses which caused "vision problems or even blindness, ringing in the ears, and cardiac arrhythmias." It was deemed "dangerous and useless". Yet again in 2020, a leader without a science background decided that a malaria drug would cure covid-19 and pushed hydroxychloroquine, eliminating anyone who got in his way. Again, science did not support this potentially dangerous drug.

"'We eat it, live it, sleep it and dream it, to say nothing of breathing it 16 hours a day,' wrote a young medical orderly in a letter dated September 29, 1918."

In addition to covering all the similarities, Influenza also provided information on what the virus replicates inside your body, interesting treatments of the past compared to today, tips on the best times to visit the emergency room, the importance of tracking illness, the creation of a vaccine, and the creation of the CDC stockpile in 1999. The author even shared that we still have copies of the 1918 flu virus locked in a freezer at an undisclosed location in Maryland.

While this book was written in 2018, one question appeared again and again- "Are we ready for the next 1918-like pandemic, the one most experts are saying is just a matter of time?" I'll let you answer that for yourselves...
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A highly prescient book. Dr. Brown lays out his arguments cogently and is captivating enough to bring a dense subject to life. I would recommend this book to those interested in the history of science and who are concerned about the future of disease and our responses to diseases.
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A fascinating look at flu, timed to the 100-year anniversary of the Great Influenza Pandemic of 1918, one which took my great-aunt and altered our family history forever. The author, Director of Emergency Care Research at the National Institutes of Health, includes a fair amount of medicalese, which suits me fine as a former medical writer but may be tough for readers without a health care background. Still highly absorbing at it examines influenza’s history, our preparedness for the next pandemic, the efficacy of shots, and the possibility of a cure. Highly recommended! 

Thanks to the author, publisher and NetGalley for the ARC. Opinions are mine. Pub Date 18 Dec 2018. InfluenzaTheHundredYearHuntToCureTheDeadliestDiseaseInHistory #NetGalley
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Influenza by Jeremy Brown commemorates the 100th anniversary of the 1918 flu pandemic and the advances (or lack of) in the past 100 years.  I am fascinated by the 1918 flu, but this book would appeal to almost anyone.  It flows well and provides plenty of information without being too technical.  I especially enjoyed the chapter on current medicines used to treat the flu and how the government is working to prevent a repeat of the 1918 pandemic.  Both left me without much hope that current medicine has advanced faster than the flu virus.  This is easily one of the best books on influenza that I have read.
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Interesting history of influenza, how it spreads, how it's treated, attitudes towards vaccines, etc. The writer does a good job of presenting multiple perspectives, though it's clear he backs the current medically supported standard of care. I think a copy of this book should be read any everyone to dispel myths about how the flu spreads and how one can best protect oneself.
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A very easy and intriguing read. I read it during high flu season in my area so that added to my interest as well.
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I'm glad that Jeremy Brown wrote Influenza in a scientific manner. The flu pandemic of 1918 was horrific and devastating, but Dr. Brown has chosen not to focus on the more sensational aspects of it. Instead he takes a thorough and informative approach by writing about the flu virus in general and how antigenic shift and drift make it difficult, if not impossible, to successfully vaccinate against it every year, the problems with flu tracking, and the medical and political morass with Tamiflu. This book is not just about the 1918 pandemic, but all the other outbreaks that have happened, and the ones to come. It's been 101 years since the 1918 pandemic, and even though the world has changed greatly in that time, Dr. Brown reminds the reader that influenza is still a real and present threat and the power and limitations of modern medicine.

He includes an interesting fact: if your team plays in the Super Bowl, there will be an 18% increase in flu-related deaths in the geographic areas associated with those teams. That's because of all the people gathering at Super Bowl parties and bars, touching the same napkins, chips, snacks, and drinks. It doesn't even have to be direct contact; even if you watch the game (or not) at home on Sunday, you have an increased chance of transmission of the virus from your coworker, waitress, clerk, or just about anyone you come into contact with on Monday who did go to a Super Bowl party. So, be careful out there New England and Los Angeles.

Thanks to Atria Books and NetGalley for providing me with an advance copy of this book.
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"Flu is certainly not the “emperor of all maladies” as cancer was described by the oncologist Siddhartha Mukherjee, but it is the malady of all empires."

This short but informative novel about influenza encompasses everything from its history and its impact to the role pharmaceutical companies and the government have played in the pursuit to find an effective vaccine or cure. I found this fascinating. Dr. Brown writes so that layman can understand but also doesn’t shy away from using medical vernacular when necessary.

I particularly found the portion on tamiflu interesting as I worked in a doctor’s office years ago and during flu season every patient would beg for this (and research shows that it has very little affect on the flu). Also, the impact the flu has on an economy (both positive and negative) surprised me as I never thought about that before, but it made sense.

I highly recommend this for science buffs, history lovers, and anyone interested in learning about something we've all experienced.
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A Review of “Influenza” by Jeremy Brown

Dr. Brown is an Emergency Medicine physician who has worked in both the UK and the US.  He wrote this book specifically to document the “one hundred year war against the flu”.  The Pandemic of 1919 killed over 30 million around the world.  The first question about the Pandemic Influenza (referred to as “The Flu”) was how did it spread so quickly and over such a large are of the world.  

The most prevalent theory is that it was spread by the soldiers going to and from the war, especially after the Armistice.  Soldiers in the trenches were a perfect breeding ground for the Flu with the unsanitary conditions and crowding of the troop trains and ships.  In the US it was spread by soldiers going to camps for basic training and then being shipped overseas.  Trains carrying solders were seldom cleaned in between usage, infecting everyone who used them.

Though treatment of the Flu has been evolving over the years, except for antibiotics to treat the accompanying pneumonia, little more effective than aspirin (or equivalent anti-inflammatories), bed rest and fluids have changed over the years. He states that along with the CDC and WHO, few consider anti-virals (like Tamilflu) as treatment for the underlying symptoms.  Vaccinations can be effective but most of the time it’s only 50% effective and as low as 10% if the wrong strains are chosen to combat.

Brown spends a good (and useful) amount of time discussing the efficacy of vaccines and treatments. But at this time, one hundred years after the 1919 Flu Epidemic, we are still dealing with an enemy who can turn on a dime and laugh at our treatments.

Zeb Kantrowitz            
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Simply put, this book is fantastic. When I did manage to pry myself away from it, I could not stop thinking about the flu!

Dr. Jeremy Brown is not only knowledgeable in his field, but performs outstanding research and is a talented writer. Trained at the University College School of Medicine in London and a doctor of emergency medicine, Dr. Brown has seen his fair share of the flu. He weaves modern medical science (in layman's language for the everyday reader) with the history of influenza, the politics of research, and the possibilities of a pandemic in the future. His notes and bibliography are a well executed addendum to his great narrative.

The 1918 influenza pandemic killed between 50 and 100 million people across the world and the flu kills more than 30,000 people in the U.S. each year even today. Those numbers are nothing to sneeze at. Something that seems so innocuous to most of us is a real threat to our lives if a single gene mutates or crosses with different strains.

The flu has been around for centuries and yet, we still know next to nothing about how to effectively combat it, let alone how to cure it. Society continues to struggle with the virus itself, the bacterial pneumonia that often follows, and the body's immune response to the sickness. Dr. Brown does a magnificent job of explaining the history while simultaneously laying out the political implications of this kind of sickness in the present and future. His analogies are spot on and help the reader understand the scope of influenza and its effects. While some of his wording can be confusing, such as when discussing statistics and not delineating exactly which demographic group each number applies to, his prose is engaging. 

I would recommend this book to anyone interested in history, medicine, contagious disease, health politics, or just looking for a great read. As someone who was afflicted with the 2009 swine flu, after reading Dr. Brown's book I will get a flu shot every year, make sure I'm getting my vitamin D, and probably never use Tamiflu again.

Thank you to NetGalley and Touchstone for providing me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
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Influenza: The Hundred Year Hunt to Cure the Deadliest Disease in History by Jeremy Brown is a very highly recommended, fascinating exploration of the history of the flu virus and the search for a cure.

The 1918 Flu pandemic left an estimated 50 to 100 million people dead worldwide. Ever since then the search has been on to find a cure before the outbreak another world wide influenza pandemic. Brown discusses where the 1918 flu may have started (we don't know for certain) and the various cures that have been tried over the years. Now we know influenza is a virus and that virus mutates into other strains of the flu, making a cure even more challenging. In a conversational style, Dr. Jeremy Brown, currently Director of Emergency Care Research at the National Institutes of Health, shares information from leading epidemiologists, policy makers, and the researcher who first sequenced the genetic building blocks of the original 1918 virus.

He doesn't shy away from the many questions and misinformation swirling around vaccinations, anti-viral drugs, and government preparation for the next epidemic. He also tackles the media's role in exaggeration and swaying public opinion through emotion, anxiety, and misinformation, as well as the more recent role of social media outbreak spreading misinformation, exaggeration, and fear faster than the actual flu virus was spreading. He also discusses the pharmaceutical companies influence and their lobbying efforts, which are largely based on fear.

Deaths from the flu do occur every year and there are groups of the population that are more susceptible, but this does not include everyone. Dr. Brown points out several different public panics over influenza outbreaks (which I clearly remember), and how the actual outbreak was not as huge as the fear spread through the media. Additionally, information people hear on the news, whether it is correct or fact-based or not, makes people and policy makers start quoting and spreading the misinformation.

This is an eminently well-written and engrossing examination of the history and current information about the influenza virus. The conversational writing style and the logical organization of the book make the information easily understood and assimilated, even for those readers who typically shun medical/historical nonfiction.  As is my wont for informational nonfiction selections, I always appreciated the inclusion of notes, a complete bibliography, and an index.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Simon & Schuster.
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Influenza by Dr. Jeremy Brown

2018 is the 100th anniversary of the Influenza pandemic of 1918 that killed 50 to 100 million people worldwide and infected as many as a third of the world’s population.  Dr. Brown not only documents the events of 1918 but more importantly explores research and breakthroughs in the field since then.  With this added knowledge, he lets the reader ponder whether another pandemic is likely to happen again, and if so, how deadly would it be.  Surprisingly, medicine may not have progressed as far as most of us would like to think. Dr. Jeremy Brown, director of Emergency Care Research at the National Institutes of Health, along with his exhaustive research is well qualified to tell us this story.

In documenting the history of the disease, “Influenza” covers many interesting stories including the need to recover the bodies of 1918 influenza victims that remained frozen in the Alaskan tundra since their death.  Brown also delves into the economic and social impact of flu and today's fight against the virus and the immunizations that remain controversial to this day.

Much has been written about the 1918 pandemic but this book goes beyond the story of 1918. It follows the disease for a century and documents our fight against it.
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100 years ago, the flu attacked the world and killed millions of people. We have no idea how many due to the fact that many island nation populations were destroyed and many deaths were attributed to pneumonia instead of the flu. This book provides an in depth look at what happened in 1918. 

Unlike a lot of other books about the flu pandemic, this author is a doctor which allows him the ability to talk knowledgeably about the disease and how it traveled around the world and the missteps in how people were attempting to treat the victims.   

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a review. All thoughts are my own.
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HOW do you review a book like this? I could absolutely do a term paper on this book and with a little more research and a few more notes [than what I already took], I could write a research paper on this book. But a review for Goodreads and NetGalley? THAT will be a little more difficult.  So I am going to give it my best attempt [and I am sure this will be edited quite a bit while I am writing it] and I will hope for the best. 

I will say to start, that this was one of the best books I have read in a long time, and one of the best-written nonfiction books I have read this year [Educated by Tara Westover is also one of the best-written books I have read as well]. This is not some dry, textbook-like tome. This book is full of facts and information yes, but there is also humor [which was unexpected] and optimism, which was also unexpected. The author doesn't shy away from unpopular opinions and speaks both what he sees as truth and believes to be truth, based on the exhaustive research he has done on this subject. I learned things I never knew [like what ECMO means - I have heard that in medical shows on TV all the time but had NO IDEA what it stood for {extracorporeal membrane oxygenation - basically, the heart/lung machine}], and confirmed things I had known [bloodletting IS bad!!] all along. 

This book also gave me facts that blew my mind - in the 1918 Pandemic, it is estimated that between 50 - 100 million people died; 675,000 in the US alone [which is 10x as many as died in the Great War {that was just ending when the Pandemic broke out}]. And should an Pandemic of this level happen today, the estimate of death is close to 2 million people in the US alone. Those numbers are numbing and horrifying.  To quote the book, "One hundred years after the pandemic of 1918, we have learned an enormous amount about influenza. We know its genetic code [And THAT is a great chapter in this book; how they are able to do this is absolutely fascinating], how it mutates, and how it makes us sick, and yet we still don't have effective ways to fight it. The antiviral medications we have are pretty useless, and the flu vaccine is a poor defense. In good year it is effective only half the time, and in 2018 the record was even worse; the vaccine was only effective in about one-third of those who received it [or about 20%]."  

If you are a pessimist, you will believe that there will be another pandemic like the one of 1918. If you are an optimist, you believe that our defenses are well enough placed to ward off a pandemic, though there could still be some problems. And if you are a realist, like the author, you believe a little of both.  With all the information given here, it will be quite some time before I am sure what I believe and where I lie on that spectrum. 

There is BIG business and money in Influenza though and so the vaccines go on, even with the knowledge that they consistently do not work.  There is HUGE money in the antivirals [the chapter on that will absolutely blow your mind], again with the knowledge that they consistently [and is proven] do not work. And we the public are bombarded with information that is has little truth to it but is touted as gospel and I think that is the biggest take from this book that scares me the most. Because ultimately, the very people we think that would help save us should a pandemic happen, have very little clue on how to actually DO that. They know how and where and why, but the treatment has and continues to baffle them.  To quote the book again: "The impulse to do <i>something</i>, to react in the face of catastrophe, is a common theme in our fight against influenza." And that, is where the problem truly lies. 

A VERY good read, one I recommend people to find and read themselves. We will never move forward without the masses themselves educating themselves about issues like this and making the best informed decision for <i>themselves</i> and not just what the government is telling them is truth and what to believe. 

Thank you to NetGalley and Touchstone Publishing for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.
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Yes, this is another book on the influenza pandemic of 1918 – my goal is to read them all. Seriously, it is always good to compare one with the other and possibly learn new information. One new angle with this book is that the author discusses the Tamiflu controversy in detail (I wasn’t aware of the issues behind this drug, and the backstory makes the juxtaposition with the pandemic particularly chilling). Another angle is that this book is not restricted to the 1918 outbreak; there is a discussion of the virus in general, what type of research has been done, and puts forth the probability of when/how another outbreak could be possible.

One of my favorite portions of the book was the story behind the exhumed victims and how the virus was recovered from their bodies. The author’s respect for their sacrifice shines clearly through in this section, which is detailed but not gory. The gore factor is minimal, compared to other books on influenza or diseases in particular.

The fact that the author is a medical doctor means that he’s done his research and can strike the balance between med-speak and conveying his ideas to the general public. The book is very easy to read and eminently understandable. I read this over the course of a few days and it kept me interested throughout. It is always refreshing when an author can take a subject and provide a fresh, relevant look at it.
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Jeremy Brown brings the focus of an ER physician to his history of the annual malady we are all so familiar with. On the 100 year anniversary of the 1918 "Spanish" Flu pandemic, Brown examines the nature of that strain, and of the influenza virus itself.

Brown gives us an on-the-ground look at flu season, the flu vaccine, and how (un)prepared we are for another pandemic the likes of 1918.

Perhaps the most intriguing part of the book deals with the approach to treating the flu in 1918, well before viruses had been discovered, versus the approach to treating the flu today. While the scientific community has made great strides in learning about the causes and mechanics of the flu, we have made surprisingly little headway into finding an effective way to combat it. Thus far, the influenza virus seems to defy all our attempts to mitigate it.

A thought-provoking read, with a good dose of science and history, but readable even to those who might normally shun the genre. With the likelihood of a world-wide pandemic fairly high in the near future, this seems a timely read.
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A worldwide pandemic disease, untreatable and often fatal, with a dodgy vaccine that many people do not choose to get?

Not Station Eleven dystopian fiction, but an account of the Spanish Flu of 1918, and lots of information on present day flu bugs, treatments, policies, etc. 

Well-researched and credible, but also very readable.  Recommended for anyone with an interest in medicine, science, or whether to get a fu vaccination!
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Here's an idea: on the 100-year anniversary of the Spanish flu pandemic, a history of the flu written by an actual doctor. In this case, a medical doctor who actually has seen perhaps hundreds of cases of the flu himself provides an interestingly unique viewpoint. He's also a good writer.

Although the title and marketing of this book might lead you to believe it is about the 1918 pandemic, it really isn't.

It is about influenzas generally, and travels back and forth in time (without being at all confusing) from the author's present-day experience as an ER doctor to about 430 BC, when Thucydides made what is probably the oldest written record of an influenza-like outbreak. However, if you are going to write a history of influenzas generally, the 1918 pandemic is going to loom large in the narrative, and it does here.

Since I teach English, I think more about what words mean than the average clam, and this book made me realize that I have been, to my deep pedagogical shame, using the words epidemic and pandemic interchangeably. In my defense, I can only repeat information in this book, that is, The New York Times has publicly admitted that the definition depends largely on who is speaking. Furthermore, the author says, “[n]o one really agrees on exact meanings” (Kindle location 450).

The author continues:

    The most useful definition we have is that an epidemic is a severe local outbreak, while a pandemic is a global outbreak that makes people very sick, and spreads rapidly from a point of origin.

New topic: toward the end of the book, there is quite a bit of interesting information about those villains at large pharmaceutical companies stirring up a sense of panic among the population in order to get bureaucrats and lawmakers to buy an expensive load of flu vaccine for emergency stockpiles.

I found the ending to be less than completely pleasing. In it, the author sets up two straw man arguments -- optimists and pessimists -- and then knocks them down before declaring himself to be a “realist”. It's hard to fault someone for being a realist, but I don't think he demonstrated that people who hold different views from his are somehow not “realists”.

As a result of being a realist, the author says that the 1918 flu epidemic does not loom large enough in our collective memory, and suggests that a new memorial be built here in Washington DC in honor of those who died. It's hard to object to a memorial without appearing hard-hearted, but I think the city is already starting to experience monument overload. I don't see a monument having much of an effect other than perhaps making us feel good for a moment. Better history education would be a better solution, but better education is difficult and expensive. Still, accept no substitutes.

I received a free electronic advance review copy of this book via Netgalley and Simon & Schuster.
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