Ebola: The Nat­u­ral and Hu­man His­tory of a Deadly Virus

Africa Renewal - - Africa Books - By David Quam­men — Pavithra Rao

W. W. Nor­ton & Company, New York, NY, USA, 2014; 128 pp; pb $ 11.15

Almost as if from nowhere, the Ebola virus out­break has be­come one of the most-talked about dis­eases in re­cent times. The cur­rent out­break has so far led to more than 5,500 deaths, ac­cord­ing to the World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion.

Statis­tics pro­vided by the US Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Preven­tion show that the sit­u­a­tion may be­come more dis­as­trous in the com­ing months – a worst case sce­nario could see more than 1.4 mil­lion peo­ple af­fected by early 2015.

Au­thor and sci­ence writer David Quam­men ex­plores the epi­demic and the new fears that have arisen around the virus in his lat­est book, Ebola: The Nat­u­ral and Hu­man His­tory of a Deadly Virus. With a jit­tery global au­di­ence watch­ing the pre­car­i­ous story un­fold in the three most-af­fected West African coun­tries of Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, panic lev­els are ris­ing.

Mr. Quam­men traces the story of the cat­e­gor­i­cally zoonotic dis­ease. Zoonotic dis­ease, he ex­plains, is an an­i­mal in­fec­tion that can be trans­mit­ted to hu­mans. He sheds light on how the virus emerged close to 50 years ago in the forests of Congo and how it has af­fected, is af­fect­ing and could af­fect the world at large.

The book pro­vides an­swers to ques­tions such as what brings about a mys­te­ri­ous pan­demic such as Ebola after years of dor­mancy in a mere mat­ter of months and how such a lethal dis­ease is so volatile and elu­sive.

Many med­i­cally ori­ented books are of­ten dif­fi­cult to read be­cause of the heavy use of jar­gon. But Mr. Quam­men’s 128-page book stands out for its easy-toread tone. It also has a grip­ping pre­sen­ta­tion of the mys­ter­ies be­hind the virus which the au­thor calls ‘hel­la­ciously de­struc­tive’ and the rea­sons it is caus­ing so much panic on a global scale.

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