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Sunday, September 21, 2003
Virus Hunter ~ CJ Peters & Mark Olshaker 

Virus Hunter : Thirty Years of
Battling Hot Viruses
Around the World
CJ Peters & Mark Olshaker
I remember reading this book at in 1997 in the wake of the Coxsackie virus that was spreading throughout Sarawak. Now, with the possibility of the SARS virus coming back again, I picked up this book again today when it caught my eye.

Most of us have seen the movie Outbreak where a virus attacked a small American town with Ebola type symptoms. We saw how the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention as well as the US Army took care of the situation. However, this book is not about the movie.

Virus Hunter is a book on the people who, as the title implies, actually go hunting for the virus. It is written by CJ Peters who was formerly the Chief of Special Pathogens at CDC until his retirement. Prior to that position, he was formerly Chief of the Disease Assessment Division at USAMRIID. Now, he is currently a Professor in the Department of Microbiology & Immunology and Pathology in the University of Texas, Medical Branch.

CJ writes about what it's like to work as a detective in a field where there are endless possibilities to who, what, when, why and how does the virus spread as well as containment procedures. He speaks from his own experience and there are a lot to read in this book. The success stories as well as the ones where mistakes are made. Nevertheless, he plows onwards, learning from mistakes and guiding his team onwards.

One of the most interesting chapters within the book is about the case of the Ebola virus in the United States. Although, it's only covered briefly in the book, it provides an insight on how decisions were made and how lucky a lot of people were when they were still trying to identify what it was : virus or bacteria? Mild or deadly? If you're interested in reading the full story, Richard Preston has written The Hot Zone.

It is never easy being in a position where one has to make crucial decisions on what to do next and this autobiography gives us that. An easy and interesting read, it is one that I do pick up from time to time. And I am sure you would too.

Life is short, the art long, opportunity fleeting, experience treacherous, judgement difficult. The physician must be ready, not only to do his duty himself, but also to secure the cooperation of the patient, of the attendants and of externals. -Hippocrates

He that will not apply new remedies must expect new evils; for time is the greatest innovator. -Sir Francis Bacon

The pursuit of an idea is as exciting as the pursuit of a whale. -Henry Norris Russell

My thirty-year career as a virus hunter has taught me that there are many tests and trials, along the way, as well as dangerous and deadly curves when we least expect them. I also know there is great reason for hope too. We're not going to cure death, but the effort we put into fighting it off, and the reverence we place on the value of every human life, says more about us as a species than anything else I can think of. - CJ Peters

Wena Tan  # 8:17 PM