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Beating Back the Devil:
On the Front Lines with the Disease Detectives of the Epidemic Intelligence Service

by Maryn McKenna

ISBN 0743251326 / 9780743251327 / 0-7432-5132-6
Publisher Free Press
Language English
Edition Hardcover
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Book summary

Among candidates for world's worst job, disease detective ranks pretty high. In Beating Back the Devil, Maryn McKenna examines the everyday fascinations and horrors faced by the CDC's Epidemic Intelligence Service. On a few hours' notice, these physicians are ready to travel anywhere in the world to track down new medical threats. McKenna writes about the group's response to such frightening incidents as the first outbreaks of Ebola and SARS. In matter-of-fact, first-person narratives, EIS doctors tell how they deal with crises brought on not only by biological threats, but by public health mismanagement, terrorism, and war. One doctor describes trying to save children while working in conflict-torn Zaire:

"We would go into a center and find kids lying on the floor, severely dehydrated, with a clogged IV," he said. "Then we would go outside and find the relief workers building a stone fireplace.... And we'd have to say, Hot meals would be great, but in a few days you're not going to have any living kids to cook meals for.... Take this oral rehydration solution and sit by this child and spoon it into his mouth.... Don't do anything else, or this child is going to be dead."
McKenna's research is painstakingly meticulous, and the doctors she profiles come across as brave firefighters of microbiological conflagrations. Not since Sherwin Nuland has an author so effectively revealed the dramatic side of medicine. --Therese Littleton [via]