Unlocking the secrets of the flu virus
Flu Hunter: Unlocking the secrets of a virus By Robert G. Webster, Otago University Press, $35
How timely. As we slowly lurch from awet, cold winter into awet, cold spring, here’s this book about the flu and why it’s killing us.
World-renowned virologist is an international expert on this nasty disease, andwas amongthe first to link human and avian flu H5N1, knownas bird flu. But he himself says after 100 years of studying the 1918 flu outbreak, which killed40 million to 100million people, westill don’t know why it was such a killer.
He outlines some of his work, including exhuming bodies of the Spanish flu victims from Arctic permafrost to test genetic material.
It’s a global adventure of sorts, chasing down the bird vectors which spread the latest versions of flu, and probably the historic ones as well. This is his first person account of detective work since the 1960s.
Hesays the most dangerous birds are ducks. Yes, ducks.
H5N1 poses the most serious public health threat since the Spanish flu. Flu victims in Vietnam and Thailand got sick from direct contact with infected poultry. And Dr Webster says it’s only amatter of time before this virus, as he puts it, “goes off”.
It grates when people who have taken a day or two off work with a cold say they’ve had “the flu”. If you’ve ever had real flu, youknow the difference. Manyof us know someone who has died or been severely ill.
It’s small comfort to know that this Otago-born doctor is the one manin the world who could find the answer to its mystery.
Author Robert G. Webster.