Autobiography of a self-described disease detective whose adventures in public health dramatize the need to modify our approach to emerging infections and possible pandemics.
For more than two decades, Khan (Dean, Coll. of Public Health/Univ. of Nebraska), the former director of the Office of Public Health Preparedness and Response at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, has dealt with high-profile emergencies at home and abroad. His work as a first responder has taken him from hurricane-devastated New Orleans to the pox-ridden jungles of Zaire, from the hantavirus-infected Four Corners region of the American Southwest to anthrax-contaminated Washington, D.C. While he cites influenza, a highly communicable disease with the capacity to kill millions, as the likeliest cause of a global pandemic, his stories also feature bioterrorism, natural disasters, and viruses such as the ones that caused Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), Ebola, Rift Valley Fever, West Nile Fever, and even bubonic plague. Khan excels at writing for general readers. Not only does he describe the effects of specific diseases and how he investigates an outbreak and creates a plan to stop it, but he also creates vivid pictures of the setting, the people, and often the politics involved in diagnosis and treatment. The author asserts that we can mitigate, if not prevent, most outbreaks, but only if public health systems are supported in every country and globally through the creation of a United Nations undersecretary for health security. In the final chapter, Khan outlines some of the changes he believes are necessary to move from an emergency response approach to one that emphasizes preparedness and prevention. As he writes, “we cannot excuse infections as simple public health misadventures.”
The details are sometimes disturbing, but Khan writes with verve, clarity, and a touch of humor.