Monday, December 1, 2008

Federal Bodysnatchers and the New Guinea Virus


Federal Bodysnatchers and the New Guinea Virus: Tales of People, Parasites, and Politics by Robert S. Desowitz was originally published in 2002. My hardcover copy is 242 pages, not including the index. The title refers to a legal case involving the patenting of a virus based on genetic information obtained from the Hagahai people of New Guinea. What this book actually covers is ten different essays by epidemiologist Desowitz. Desowitz is informative, humorous, passionate, but always knowledgeable about his topic. Actually my one problem with his book is one he noted in the prologue, he didn't include any bibliography of references. I guess I personally would have liked to see more of his information footnoted or referenced. Although other fans of non-fiction virus books may likely enjoy it more than this score suggests, I'm rating it a 3.9 as some of the essays were more interesting, compelling reading than others.

Synopsis from cover:
Twenty Years Ago The World Slept, confident that biomedical science would protect it from devastating plagues. Our wake-up call sounded at the outbreak of the AIDS epidemic. Then came other unfamiliar pathogens in its wake, among them the West Nile virus. Meanwhile, the neglected diseases of the third world, including malaria and African sleeping sickness, festered -- their victims salvageable only by unaffordable, patent-protected drugs. Robert S. Desowitz traces the histories of these diseases and the issues we must confront -- the morality and legality of patent laws covering biomedical "inventions," the effect of global warming on epidemics, the commercial relationships of publicly supported biomedical scientists and industry, and the growing dissociation of clinicians and public health professionals. The resolution of these issues, now under the terrifying shadow of bioterrorism, is essential for the well-being -- possibly even for the ultimate survival -- of the entire human species.
Quotes:

"By 1370 the Black Death had killed one-half of the English people." opening sentence

"...West Nile virus held some notable surprises. First, no one had suspected how common the infection would be...Second, no one had suspected how unfastidious the virus could be; it infected man, woman, beast and bird with equal ease." pg. 19

"The DNA sequencing methods that convict the rapist, exonerate the death-row inmate, or force the denying father to write child support checks can also be used to trace the lineage of viruses and other microbial pathogens." pg. 24

"If the West Nile virus is a curtain raiser to the arrival of a truly nasty alien pathogen, like the Ebola virus, then we are in big trouble if we are to depend upon government services to protect us..." pg. 28

"In 1994....the Clinton administration discovered that Mr. Hussein of Iraq possessed a tanker-full of botulism toxin and God knows what other deadly biologicals." pg. 32-33

"...ProMed (www.ProMEDmail.org) ...continues to monitor the West Nile Virus as well as other emerging infectious diseases." pg. 35

"So malathion is relatively safe but not innocuous. The elderly are particularly vulnerable to its toxic effects. Well, getting old is not for sissies, especially in Queens. First, you are at risk of catching... the West Nile fever; and if you escape the virus, you might become seriously ill from the malathion that is supposed to prevent you from catching it." pg. 47-48

"Now is the time to reexamine the state of public health in America." pg. 55

"Nothing has ever equaled DDT for that service [eliminating mosquitoes and disease carrying arthropods] and no essential public health measure has been so irrationally denied." pg. 59

"But that these assaults on the environment had also flowed from agricultural excesses never emerged in the discussion. The spraying of houses or the dusting of people for public health purposes never killed an osprey. The environmentalist wardens did not make that distinction (nor have they yet), and there was no voice of authority to come to DDT's defense." pg. 63

"In the 1950's Indian researchers demonstrated that tumeric, topically applied, promotes wound healing. Yet, in 1993, the U.S. Patent Office awarded the University of Mississippi Medical Center patent #5,401,504, 'Use of Tumeric in wound healing.' " Pg. 93

1 comment:

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