BY NIA NATASHA HASENAN
Book Title: Outbreaks and Epidemics – Battling infection from measles to coronavirus
Author: Meera Senthilingam
Publication: Icon Books
Publication Year: 2020
For decades, humanity has been fighting a war against diseases that would have the potential to wipe out towns, or even whole societies, if left untreated.
With all our advanced scientific knowledge, however, only one human disease, smallpox, has ever been globally eradicated.
In recent years, Ebola and Zika outbreaks have offered vivid examples of how hard it is to contain an infection once it strikes, and the hysteria that can ignite a rapidly spreading epidemic.
But as we are pursuing the viruses that we are already aware of, new ones are continuously emerging, which have spread worldwide.
Health journalist Meera Senthilingam’s book provides a timely look at the continuing war against infection by humanity, discussing the achievements and shortcomings of the past, as well as how we face today’s threats and our chances of potential disease eradication.
However, in this book, there are eight chapters that focus on the 21st century infections, diseases and politics, life long diseases, and many more fascinating topics being discussed.
As we all know, infectious diseases cause humans to suffer and often to die. The author tackles numerous diseases, including coronavirus, gonorrhea, chlamydia, HIV, malaria, hepatitis A, hepatitis B, cholera, typhoid, polio, ebola, leprosy, smallpox, and influenza.
This year, the world has been hit by the wave of a new deadly virus that has been knocking down everyone in its path with extreme, debilitating, and often fatal symptoms.
As mentioned in the book and as all have known by now, most recently, as 2019 gave way to 2020, a novel coronavirus emerged in the populous city of Wuhan, China, infecting more than 100,000 people and killing over 3,500 people by early March.
Furthermore, Senthilingam’s book describes definitions such as outbreak, disease, pandemic, and endemic in layman’s terms. Discussion of ‘zoonotic diseases’, diseases such as the Covid-19 and HIV that have spread from animals to humans is also outlined in the book.
As the book mentioned, infectious disease control involves a complex web of people — healthcare workers, physicians, epidemiologist, microbiologist, communication officers, ministries and so on.
This proves that things are bound to get political, with more people and teams likely to be involved in practice, as there are a lot of people to coordinate, and with different people, environments and cultures involved.
I agree with the author as this is an ideal scenario, how invested parties work seamlessly together to provide an effortless, quick and effective response.
But in reality, things can get messy quickly and easily, as miscommunication, misalignment and therefore misunderstanding can occur somewhere along the way, paving a longer road to success.
When political instability or conflicts come into play, the road gets even longer. In some situations, an outbreak response may be used as a political tool, to garner support or deflect the highlight from other issues a country may be experiencing.
In other situations, an outbreak response may enable leaders to underline all the issues a country is facing while the world is watching and in position to respond.
Needless to say, outbreaks inevitably become part of a political agenda.
In the same chapter of disease and political, the author mentioned the power of the anti-vaxxers, a person who opposes vaccination on various grounds.
Today’s anti-vaxxers endorse vaccine hesitancy — the reluctance or refusal to vaccinate — citing a diverse range of reasons using multiple platforms, depending on their audience, creating a complex obstacle for health officials to overcome.
But the modern voices of this minority are louder, stronger and now digital, recruiting new members in greater swathes and causing the return of vaccine-preventable diseases such as measles.
Even in Malaysia, a group of anti-vaxxers that has been active since 2016 in Facebook became a main reference for parents that doubt vaccination and claimed that the newfound polio cases in Malaysia is because of none other than the vaccine itself.
Other than that, several other crucial topics were also mentioned in the book, such as life long diseases that touch on a handful of diseases that has been around for centuries.
On top of that, “Outbreaks and Epidemics “ provided an insight into Covid-19 and makes for a really relatable reading experience during this time of pandemic and bringing it into the context of all viruses. There are some scary truths, but I think it can only be a good thing for all of us to have a deeper understanding into our world.
This is a very recommended book about diseases that have been putting us on edge for centuries It gives us an explanation on how diseases work and how people and animals are actually the living things that become the medium for transmitting the viruses.