Coronavirus: Five books that chronicle the rise and fall of historic epidemics
Like its predecessors, Covid-19 shall hopefully pass soon
The novel coronavirus epidemic has set the world on edge, as other killer diseases have done over the centuries. Like its predecessors, Covid-19 shall hopefully pass soon. But while we wait for it to subside, here are five books that chronicle some of the deadliest maladies known to humans, and the valiant efforts it took to eradicate them.
POLIO: THE ODYSSEY OF ERADICATION
by Thomas Abraham (Westland, ₹699)
One of the commonest health hazards, polio remained a deeply divisive and political issue for years, especially in the subcontinent, where apprehensions about vaccination were pervasive. But thanks to proactive researchers and activists, who made it their mission to convince people to vaccinate against polio, India is now officially polio-free. Thomas Abraham, who has also documented the story of the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) virus, chronicles the gripping saga of the anti-polio crusade.
by Sonia Shah (Penguin Random House, ₹499)
Subtitled “How Malaria Has Ruled Humankind For 500,000 Years", Shah’s book is a history of a disease yet to be obliterated. In Africa and Asia, in particular, this mosquito-borne fever continues to kill thousands every year. Apart from delving into the science behind malaria’s persistence and the world’s failure to produce a vaccine so far, Shah explores the cultural ramifications of the spread of the disease in different societies.
FLU: THE STORY OF THE GREAT INFLUENZA PANDEMIC OF 1918 AND THE SEARCH FOR THE VIRUS THAT CAUSED IT
by Gina Kolata (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $25, or around ₹1,850)
Just over a hundred years ago, the Spanish flu, which still afflicts millions around the world seasonally, wiped out nearly double the number of people who died in the Great War. The disease, now usually treated with over-the-counter drugs, left its victims burning with fever and gasping for breath in 1918. Gina Kolata revisits the scourge, as deadly as the plagues that swept Europe in the Middle Ages, in this compelling account.
EBOLA: HOW A PEOPLE’S SCIENCE HELPED END AN EPIDEMIC
by Paul Richards (Zed Books, $24.95):
In 2013, a deadly outbreak of the Ebola virus in several African countries led to widespread cases of fatality and infection. Paul Richards, a public health researcher, witnessed the devastation caused by the disease up close during his stint in Sierra Leone. He outlines the outburst of fear, panic and miscommunication that led to the epidemic, and the concerted efforts that eventually arrested the disease.
HOW TO SURVIVE A PLAGUE: THE INSIDE STORY OF HOW CITIZENS AND SCIENCE TAMED AIDS
by David France (Penguin Random House, ₹2,999)
Among viruses, HIV remains perhaps the most dreaded. AIDS, caused by it, is now a life-threatening disease that can be kept at bay with regular administration of anti-retroviral drugs. But in its early days, it was synonymous with death, and stigma, which still persists. David France’s magisterial book is an immersive study of AIDS from the medical, sociological and political angles. From being associated exclusively with gay men to becoming a global pandemic, the response to AIDS has evolved in spite of its relatively recent emergence.