One line overview:
A fascinating and in-depth story of the Spanish Flu and how it impacted everyone on the planet
I was recommended this book by Val from work, she’s an ardent virologist (turn TB’ologist, if that is even a word? 🙄) and we both have talked about how amazing viruses are. We were talking about books and she recommended this ‘Pale Rider’ by Laura Spinney, I recommended ‘Zika’ by Donald McNeil, so seeing as we both had each book we swapped. Again like most science books, it’s been on my wish list, but I didn’t buy it because it was hardback and up until now I was vehemently against them, but this book I couldn’t not read, hardback and all.
It starts of covering the early days of the pandemic, then further delving into the details of how a pandemic occurs and why it spreads (travel, rejection of staying home etc etc). It also covers a lot of misconceptions people had about the Spanish flu at the time, especially in that it was caused by the bacterium Haemophilus influenzae (hence it’s name), even though troves of patients with flu symptoms didn’t have this bacterium, it was still widely thought of as the cause. One misconception about it being bacterial would have helped if they had effective antibacterials/antibiotics back then, in that they could have prevented secondary bacterial infections associated with the infection of flu.
I quite liked that Spinney delved deep into peoples thoughts and understanding of the possibilities of where the Spanish flu actually started from. With many dispelling the fact that it wasn’t from Spain and then further trying to understand the likely origin, with an acceptance that the origin was likely somewhere in rural China. Spinney discusses this in detail, in that rural workers were transported to the Western front via North America during World War I, where it could have passed from these onto soldiers, explaining outbreaks in both America and Europe. My particular favourite part was the final chapter, that delves into the world after the Spanish flu in that birth rates rapidly rose, possibly due to the celebration of it being over, as well as possibly natural selection selecting those that were able to survive the flu.
The book marvellously covers all aspects of the pandemic and ended it perfectly, I would highly recommend it for microbiologists!