Read Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic by David Quammen Online


The emergence of strange new diseases is a frightening problem that seems to be getting worse. In this age of speedy travel, it threatens a worldwide pandemic. We hear news reports of Ebola, SARS, AIDS, and something called Hendra killing horses and people in Australia but those reports miss the big truth that such phenomena are part of a single pattern. The bugs that tranThe emergence of strange new diseases is a frightening problem that seems to be getting worse. In this age of speedy travel, it threatens a worldwide pandemic. We hear news reports of Ebola, SARS, AIDS, and something called Hendra killing horses and people in Australia but those reports miss the big truth that such phenomena are part of a single pattern. The bugs that transmit these diseases share one thing: they originate in wild animals and pass to humans by a process called spillover. David Quammen tracks this subject around the world. He recounts adventures in the field netting bats in China, trapping monkeys in Bangladesh, stalking gorillas in the Congo with the world s leading disease scientists. In Spillover Quammen takes the reader along on this astonishing quest to learn how, where from, and why these diseases emerge, and he asks the terrifying question: What might the next big one be?...

Title : Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic
Author :
Rating :
ISBN : 9780393066807
Format Type : Hardcover
Number of Pages : 587 Pages
Status : Available For Download
Last checked : 21 Minutes ago!

Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic Reviews

  • Tony
    2018-10-23 06:08

    You have to understand. I have my phobias. So it makes for awkward social encounters. Like: “Mommy,” said the little girl in the elevator, “Why is that man holding his breath the whole way down from the 16th floor?” I have been known to say things like, “Will you please stop sneezing in the direction of my beer?” I went to a doctor’s office a few years ago. Nothing ultimately serious, but possibly so, so that I went for the quickly scheduled appointment even though I was already nursing a bad cold. He wouldn’t have to touch my face, I safely predicted. It was a doctor I had never seen before, and after the usual 15-minute wait in solitary, he came in to the examination room with a game show-host smile and extended his hand, like, you know, we were soon to become new best friends. So I put up my hands defensively and said, “Sorry, but I have a cold and it’s better not to shake hands.” I figured, as a doctor, he would appreciate my candor and consideration for him and the many patients to follow. Well, he kept his hand out for a minute, as if I had slapped him, clearly thinking about what I had said. Then, with a busy officiousness, he strode to the sink and vigorously washed his hands with some anti-bacterial goo. This gave me pause. Why was he washing his hands after I declined shaking his hand and not before he offered it?I share this because the last thing I really need is to read a book about Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic. Like going to see an obvious Horror movie, I know I will be scared. Yet, we plunk down our money, watch the predictable script and wait for the creepy Pavlovian organ music to raise the hair on the back of our necks. So, scare me shitless, David Quammen. I gots to know.It is not until page 511 of this 520-page book that Quammen raises the question that he is often asked by those learning he is writing such a book: “Are we all gonna die?” And the answer is: Yes, we’re all gonna die. Yes. We are all gonna pay taxes and we are all gonna die. Most of us, though, will probably die of something more mundane than a new virus lately emerged from a duck or a chimpanzee or a bat.Most, but not all of us.This is a book about zoonosis, animal infections transmissible to humans. AIDS is one. Rabies. Ebola. Marburg. Influenza. Beware the animal reservoir. That would be the animal that ‘hosts’ the virus, safely unto itself, but potentially lethal when it jumps, when there’s a Spillover to humans. So don’t nosh on raw monkey or ape bushmeat, no matter how prized that delicacy is in the culture you’re visiting. Don’t place your pigsty under the mango tree. And don’t under any circumstances drink the palm sap. If you happen to crawl into an African cave, you know, for the experience of being underground with stale air, no natural light, thousands of bats peeing on you from above and a few cobras slinking through your feet, all without a biohazard suit, do not under any circumstances reach down for balance and touch the bat guano with your bare hand. Trust me, bad shit happens.I learned more reading this book than I did in two semesters of indifferently-attended college biology classes. Not that I can articulate the difference between microbiology and molecular biology, or other things unnecessary to get through the day. But how about this? Of all the mammals in the world – every dog, every deer, every kittycat – every freaking mammal, one in four is a bat. That’s: 1) a lot of bats ; and 2) a bad thing. Also, if you go to the Dominican Republic or some other exotic island and one of the locals comes along the beach to put a macaque on your head for a cute picture to send home to the family, resist the tourist urge. You may be bringing home something more than a Kodak moment.Quammen has found the right level of transmission to get these notions of science and math across to an idiot like me. And, even if I failed him, I was nevertheless entertained. Here is the way to start a chapter:In late February, 2003, SARS got on a plane in Hong Kong and went to Toronto. But soon we are learning more about bats, three species in particular carrying SARS-like virus: the big-eared horseshoe bat, the least horseshoe bat, and Pearson’s Horseshoe bat. Waxing smart-alecky, Quammen quips, “If you ever notice these animals on the menu of a restaurant in Southern China, you might want to choose the noodles instead. But I like smart-alecky. So I was scared, entertained and enlightened. Sometimes a single sentence would send me happily to both a dictionary and Google, such as this description of his first meeting with a researcher in Guangzhou: I suppose the durian should have been my first signal that he was a temerarious eater.One last, lingering piece of advice I will share:If your husband catches an ebolavirus, give him food and water and love and prayers but keep your distance, wait patiently, hope for the best—and, if he dies, don’t clean out his bowels by hand. Better to step back, blow a kiss, and burn the hut.Wise words. Which I pass along, like a reservoir host, as a public service.

  • Hannah Greendale
    2018-11-09 09:57

    Click here to watch a video featuring this book on my channel, From Beginning to Bookend.

  • Carol.
    2018-11-10 04:49 Quammen is prescient. He appears to have predicted the 2014 Ebola outbreak and ability to country jump years before it happened. Alright, maybe he isn’t a diviner; maybe he merely pays attention to the scientists around him. After all, there’s a reason he is has been given an Academy Award in Literature and is a three-time winner of the National Magazine Award. Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic explores the science behind human pandemics, and is a culmination of decades-long interest in animals, biology and travel. It is also an intelligent, thoughtful, and occasionally humorous book about the intersection between humans, disease, public health and the animal kingdom. "Made no mistake; they are connected, these disease outbreaks coming one after another. And they are not simply happening to us; they represent the unintended results of things we are doing. The first crisis is ecological, the second is medical."The writing is excellent and well-researched, with a list of citations for each chapter. While clearly well versed in biological concepts and the professional scientific field, Quammen writes with an eye to description, creating a liveliness in his stories. When I looked up his biography, it was with no real surprise that I learned he studied William Faulkner on a Rhodes scholarship–like Faulkner, he clearly has a deep love and respect for the natural world. The writing conveys complicated biological concepts in a way that captures the essence without oversimplifying, leaving both the novice and the more knowledgeable reader satisfied. If I have one complaint, it is that the humor present in his short stories isn’t as present; a fitting approach for the somberness of the subject, but I miss it nonetheless. Most of the humor here acknowledges journalistic license but a fair amount relates to the research process:"If you read the recent scientific literature of disease ecology, which is highly mathematical, and which I do not recommend unless you are deeply interested or troubled with insomnia, you find the basic reproduction rate everywhere."What takes this book a step beyond the ordinary is that Quammen goes to where the science happens. Interviewing scientists in person, their anecdotes give the research the human touch, and are both instructive and amazing. I found myself deeply wishing my career had taken a different track–but I’m not courageous enough to be a field scientist. The scientists who are looking for the Ebola reservoir are particularly adventuresome: when they collect samples, they do their exploring in full haz-mat gear, including a personal respirator, which leads to interesting challenges. As Quammen summarizes: "Wait a minute, lemme get this straight: You're in a cave in Uganda, surrounded by Marburg [virus] and rabies and black forest cobras, wading through a slurry of dead bats, getting hit in the face by live ones...the walls are alive with thirsty ticks, and you can hardly breathe, and you can hardly see, and... you've got time to be claustrophobic?''Uganda is not famous for its mine rescue teams,' [Amman] said."Dude. Skydiving and cliff-jumping are for wimps. Trying being a field scientist studying disease.Just fantastic stuff. If you were ever in doubt about why to get an influenza shot, the information is right here. And why you should be very, very careful about what you eat, particularly game and bushmeat.**********************************************************Specific chapter summaries and key points continued at the blog--- just follow under the asterisks

  • HBalikov
    2018-10-29 10:44

    "A zoonosis is an animal infection transmissible to humans. There are more such diseases than you might expect. AIDS is one. Influenza is a whole category of others. Pondering them as a group tends to reaffirm the old Darwinian truth (the darkest of his truths, well known and persistently forgotten) that humanity IS a kind of animal, inextricably connected with other animals; in origin and in descent, in sickness and in health." This is what David Quammen preaches in Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic. Some have already given him credit for predicting the recent Ebola outbreak. If this sounds unappealing, it's my fault. Quammen is a researcher who writes with style and substance. He isn't the type who stays in his cubicle reviewing journals and online information. He is out in the field with his buddies and compatriots giving us a front line perspective on this serious issue.To say this was an eye-opener for me probably understates its impact. I now think I know that every disease must have a reservoir. Smallpox basically resides in humans and is transmitted only among humans. Other diseases have either living or non-living reservoirs. Tetanus comes from a bacterium that resides in the soil. Cholera comes from a bacterium that resides in contaminated water. "A disease must have a portal of exit from the reservoir and a portal of entry into the host. This is how diseases are spread and new cases of infection occur. Examples of portals of exit are respiratory, the digestive tract, urinary, skin," etc. "Diseases can spread by three different, modes of transmission: contact transmission, vehicle transmission, and vector transmission." Let's remember the title of this book. Quammen is focused on "animal infections and the next human pandemic." A pandemic is an epidemic of infectious disease that has spread through human populations across a large region; for instance multiple continents, or even worldwide.Quammen points out (and I am surprised as usual) that zoonosis isn't rare. In fact, "about 60 percent of all human infectious diseases currently known either cross routinely or have recently crossed between other animals and us...Ebola...bubonic plague...Spanish influenza...bovine tuberculosis, Lyme disease, West Nile fever...rabies, hanta virus pulmonary syndrome, antharx"...etc.A lot of this book reads like a mystery. Some one or some thing has died unexpectedly and there is no immediate explanation for it. Quammen takes us along on these investigations. I came to like and respect this writer. He admires good science and points out with disdain efforts that fall short. His writing is intimate, filled with humor (often dark), and engaging. "Most people aren't familiar with the word 'zoonotic,' but they have heard of SARS, they have heard of West Nile virus, they have heard of bird flu. They know someone who has suffered through Lyme disease and someone else who has died of AIDS. They have heard of Ebola, and they know that it's a very terrifying thing (though they may confuse it with E. coli, the bacterium that can kill you if you eat the wrong spinach). They are concerned. They are vaguely aware. But they don't have the time or the interest to consider a lot of scientific detail. I can say from experience that some people, if they hear you're writing a book about such things---about scary emerging diseases, about killer viruses, about pandemics---want you to cut to the chase. So they ask: 'Are we all gonna die?" I have made it my little policy to say yes."Quammen is on the lookout for the "Next Big One." Some say his discussion of Ebola gives him a lot of "street cred." He states that few disagree that that Next Big One will be zoonotic. So it behooves us to understand what he is talking about. It's a longish book, but you can get a lot out of a little at a time. I will leave you with a sample of how he passes on advice: " If your husband catches an ebola virus, give him food and water and love and maybe prayers but keep your distance, wait patiently, hope for the best — and, if he dies, don’t clean out his bowels by hand. Better to step back, blow a kiss and burn the hut.”

  • Russ
    2018-10-20 04:48

    Full disclosure first, I'm a fan of this type of non-fiction. Laurie Garret - The Coming Plague, Richard Preston - The Hot Zone, Randy Shilts - And the Band Played On... the list goes on and on. I love this stuff. But having said that, this is truly the best thing I've ever read on the subject of infectious agents spilling over from their host species into humans. Brilliant, readable and absolutely spell-binding, Quammen's description of mutation, illness and the effect of human encroachment into different environments turns science into art. Without a doubt this guy knows his stuff and how to write about it. Highly recommended!

  • Linda
    2018-11-09 13:00

    Disclamer: I received this book from the Goodreads First Reads Giveaway program.I'm very grateful that I did. I happen to be a physician, specializing in Public Health and Preventive Medicine. I work in an environment where epidemiology underlies everything I do. Therefore, I feel that I can give an especially educated evaluation of this book.The first thing I would like to comment on is the cover. It's an eye-catching blurred photograph of a screaming mandrill. Everywhere I carried the book (which is everywhere at work; I could not put it down) people looked at it and asked me what I was reading. Beautiful and suitable, the artwork sets the stage for the gripping narratives contained within.This is a book written for the intellectually curious. Quammen, as a journalist, understands that some of the material covered in this book can be esoteric for those not trained in the subject. He explains complex subjects clearly, and this is the important part, does not condescend or dumb it down. This makes the content accessible to everyone who may be interested, and the material is fascinating.As a public health physician, I thought I was fairly well-informed on the subject of zoonoses. I was delighted to find that this book is chock full of new, up-to-date information, and I had never even heard of some of the diseases he discussed. For example, I had though the reservoir for SARS was the civet cat. I had no idea that it was...well, you have to read the book. This book is as gripping and suspenseful as any thriller or mystery, and more terrifying, to boot, since this is non-fiction. As I am typing this, Hanta virus is affecting visitors to Yosemite National Park, Ebola is breaking out in Uganda and The Congo, and who knows what other mystery illnesses have yet to be identified and are lurking for the opportunity to breakout into the greater population. David Quammen has a delightfully sardonic sense of humor, and as he spins his tales, backed with a tremendous amount of field work on his part, one feels as if they are right there in the field with him and the researchers collecting bat piss (yes, really) or strolling the Hong Kong markets, or munching on Bamboo Rat hot-pot (apparently mild and sweet, quite tasty).I found myself reading the book like a good, no, excellent, novel. Normally with non-fiction, I pick it up and put it down in spurts. This book is so engrossing, though, that I found myself even walking down the street from the train station to work while reading this (a substantial hardcover, mind you). Quite a few of my co-workers want to read it, particularly the epidemiologists and physicians, but please don't hold back if you haven't got the background. This book is written so as to be accessible to anyone who has the interest. Everyone should be interested. The next big outbreak is inevitable because of human manipulation of climate, habitat and overcrowded conditions and intrusions into the wild, bringing us more and more in contact with potential pathogens. This book is a sobering look at the changing conditions in the world and how they leave us very, very vulnerable. This is easily the most frightening book I have read in a long, long time. Thank you, David for the work of love that produced this.Note for Goodreads: the page count is wrong; please correct it. The correct page number is 520 pages of text, plus a long reference section.

  • David
    2018-10-25 04:56

    A "spillover" occurs when a microbe crosses over from an animal to humans, as an infectious disease. David Quammen describes many examples of this: SARS, ebola, HIV, influenza, marburg and hendra.Each chapter is a detective story--scientists, veterinarians and medical researchers are detectives searching for the source of a disease. The source is usually a reservoir--an animal that carries the microbe, but is not usually harmed by the microbe. And--now here's the best part--Quammen is not a stay-at-home researcher. He visits the scientists and interviews them over extended periods of time. And better yet--he accompanies scientists on research expeditions all over the world, in search of the reservoirs for terrible diseases. Quammen describes, in detail, what it is like to hunt for elusive viruses in bats, chimpanzees, monkeys, and horses. Often, the researchers must take special precautions to avoid being infected themselves. Sometimes these precautions fail, with awful consequences.Quammen investigates why spillovers occur when and where they do. It's a combination of ecology and evolution. A microbe is carried by an animal reservoir, and usually in equilibrium where the animal is unharmed. Then, some dramatic change to the environment occurs, usually it is caused by humans impinging on the local ecology. The microbe mutates and jumps either to a vector (like a mosquito or a rat) or directly to a human. Further mutations then allow the microbe to jump from one human to another, causing an epidemic.Researchers agree that in the future, there will be lethal epidemics like AIDS and the influenza pandemic of 1918. Such epidemics are totally unpredictable, because of the diversity of human behavior.David Quammen is an excellent writer--he has a wonderful style. It is obvious from his enthusiasm and from his extensive travels, that this book represents his life-long efforts. Spillover is a sequence of detective mysteries and adventure stories, all rolled up into one. I highly recommend it!

  • Rebecca Foster
    2018-11-03 07:54

    (4.5) This exposé of zoonoses (diseases passed from animals to humans) is top-notch scientific journalism: pacey, well-structured and entirely gripping. Although it’s a rather sobering topic, this is not scare-mongering for the sake of it; indeed, Quammen frankly concludes that we are much more likely to die of heart disease or fatal car crashes: “Yes, we are all gonna die. Yes. We are all gonna pay taxes and we are all gonna die. Most of us, though, will probably die of something much more mundane than a new virus lately emerged from a duck or a chimpanzee or a bat.” Still, you can’t help but wonder: what will be the next major pandemic? When, where and how will it happen; how severe could it be?(See my full review at Nudge.)

  • Clouds
    2018-10-21 13:06

    Pure class from beginning to end - the best science journalism I've read.It was completely coincidental that I read this just before the 2014 Ebola outbreak... but that did sort of reinforce why this is essential reading!Plenty of other goodreads reviews have given superb summaries of the content of the novel, so I'll only touch on that briefly - but here's why I personally loved it:I originally put this on my long-list as research reading. There's a novel I want to write (one day!) that is set in a an alt-history where humanity was ravaged 18th/19th century by an incredibly contagious but slow killing parasite that crosses from a fictional type of domesticated chimps to mankind. So... I aced high-school Biology, I've seen Outbreak, I've read the Andromedus Strain and I've played the Plauge Inc app and the Pandemic boardgame - I have a higher than average interest in the mechanics of contagious diseases - but I'm certainly no pro. There were plenty of question marks in my plot regarding how my fictional plague functioned. This book sounded like the perfect, broad spectrum primer for what kinds of diseases had spread from animals, how that worked, and how it could (plausibly enough for spec fic) work.So that's why it got on my long-list.Every time I saw a review flash past from a goodreads friend, it was invariably positive.For the last few years I've been diligently focused on my reading lists - working through all the major sci-fi/fantasy award winners since 1980. It hasn't left a huge amount of space for books which sounded interesting, but weren't award winners. So I created a new reading list called the 'Cup of Tea List' for books that hadn't won awards but sounded like my cup of tea! I picked 10 top books for the list - and this was one of them.So I eventually got my chance to read it!And I loved every page.I love learning new stuff and I thought this was all fascinating and presented in an incredibly accessible way. It's not dumbed-down, but Quammen never talks in the stilted, precise vernacular of the true scientist. He's a damn-fine writer, who happens to really know his science. At the end of every chapter I wanted to report it all back to my wife. She's kind of squeamish about sickness, so she didn't totally appreciate that, but even she found it interesting.I've spoken about it so glowingly every since I finished it, that I've loaned it out twice already. If a friend's looking to borrow a book and they have any science leanings at all, I'm there, "dear friend, have you by chance read Spillover yet? No? Let me find where I've put it..."In football (soccer) rhetoric, there's a running joke that club managers don't have the broadest vocabularies, and a good player is often described as "a top lad". If he's an exceptional player he might be a "a top, top lad" - with each subsequent, more emphatic "top" being reserved for the elite, the world-beaters, etc. With this in mind, I say that Spillover is a top, top, top read, and it'll only set you back a fiver. Don't wait as long as I did - get yourself a copy now, then lend it to friends!After this I read: Falling Free

  • Parker F
    2018-10-18 09:48

    This book was an exciting and informative tour of zoonotic diseases, but the fragmented style diminished my enjoyment. Quammen practices an annoying form of gonzo journalism in which he needlessly inserts himself into the narrative because he is too lazy to do otherwise. There are numerous throwaway chapters that are included for no other reason than because Quammen made a trip or did the interview. For instance, many pages are devoted to the unenlightening tale of a scientist who accidentally pricks herself with an Ebola-carrying needle. We learn of this woman's childhood, educational background, family life, the cleanliness of her home, etc. We learn of the boredom of her long quarantine and how she and her friends shared unfunny jokes via email about how her quarantine diet is high calorie. One may think that Quammen is building up to some sort of cliffhanger in which this poor woman ends up showing Ebola symptoms, but it is clear from the start (as he describes his visit to her house and the interview) that this didn't happen. This whole ordeal could have been omitted or replaced with one sentence, but Quammen must feel that every interview he conducts deserves many pages of text. (After a few minutes of reflection, I now realize the author's intent with this Ebola-quarantine section. He is de-sensationalizing Ebola by telling a tale of potential laboratory-borne infection completely lacking any excitement or exploding bodies, in stark contrast to THE HOT ZONE.)While these aren't direct quotes, the book is strewn with needless editorializing along the lines of "I think the guy who first discovered the cause of malaria is one cool dude," and there are way too many one word sentences like "Boring" or "Neato." Seriously. Worst of all, near the end of the book Quammen takes a novelistic turn and tells an entirely fictional account of a patient zero carrying AIDS from the jungle of central Africa into the city. While this perhaps is demonstrating a plausible scenario for the first cases of human to human transmission of the virus, the level of trivial detail is infuriating. Should we applaud Quammen for so humanizing his fictional character and eagerly await the publication of his first novel? Or should we be upset that so many pages of a 700 page book are wasted on an Introduction-to-Creative-Writing-quality novella? Nonetheless, most of the book is enthralling. But I dread the approaching day in which all journalistic nonfiction will be told in this short-attention-span, MTV-News-inspired format.

  • Elizabeth
    2018-10-17 13:05

    Is it possible to "really like" a book like this? I think I may have shortchanged this book with the three star rating. Hmmm.But I digress. It is official- I now know too much. Most of us have probably spent some amount of time thinking about a pandemic. How could we not? Reading this book will not ease said fears. It is unsettling to read how easy it is for an infection to *spillover* (sorry) from animal to human. This book reveals just how easy it is and gives you enough information to scare the daylights out of you. Enjoy.

  • Nikki
    2018-10-28 06:02

    I found this book fascinating. When I originally got it out of the library, some of my friends were a biiiit concerned that given my GAD was health-focused, this would just make me have a panic attack. I'm happy to report that I was simply happily curious, digging around with great enthusiasm, stopping to google things, etc.In terms of the level this is at, it's perfectly comprehensible to anyone, I would say. Granted, I do have a background in reading plenty of popular science, an A Level in biology, and various science/medical courses online, but I don't think that puts me much above the layman, really. Where something needs explaining, Quammen does so quite clearly. (Although if you do find this fascinating but a bit dense for you, this course on Coursera might be worth a look the next time it runs. I enjoyed it, anyway.)So, granted I already find this topic fascinating, but I think this was a good read. It avoided sensationalism, aside from the couple of chapters where Quammen imagined the life of the Cut Hunter from the cut-hunter theory of the origin of HIV, which were a little much for me. That goes beyond adding a bit of human interest into a flight of fancy, which jars with the rest of the book. If you want to think delightedly of Ebola victims as being a sack of liquefied matter, I gather you want to read The Hot Zone (Richard Preston).It's well-structured, taking us through various different zoonotic pathogens and their implications. The search for the "Next Big One" (the next pandemic) isn't the primary focus, despite the title, and instead Quammen focuses on how the diseases are tracked, particularly how they are tracked to the reservoir species that safely harbour the pathogens until they spill over into other species. It's not hysterical about the fact that there will be another pandemic, but treats it in a matter of fact way. Of course there'll be another pandemic: we're overcrowded, highly connected, highly social, and fairly careless.I know there are people out there who will be complaining about Quammen's bias when he notes that we are, to a great extent, making the problem worse. We destroy habitats, bring animals into closer contact with us, and thus bring ourselves into closer contact with their pathogens, which may spill over into humans. Not biased, and not hard to understand, just a fact.

  • Molly
    2018-10-30 11:03

    Thrilled to see that David Quammen had a new science book, I snatched this up. It’s been 15 years since his book "Song of the Dodo” about island biogeography, which remains at the top of my favorite non-fiction. Can one *enjoy* a book about infectious disease? Anyone who's read Richard Preston's “The Hot Zone” will guiltily admit, yes (interestingly, he takes Preston to task for overplaying descriptions of Ebola infection. “Bleeding out" is not accurate.)There is inherent narrative drama in the question of when the Next Big One (NBO) will hit and in the epidemiological sleuthing to identify viruses and their host animals when an epidemic breaks. What will turn a local outbreak into a pandemic? Do scientists think there IS a NBO lurking? Quite possibly. And if so, it will assuredly originate in animals, as has almost all human infectious disease. Influenza, SARS, Marburg, Lyme disease - Quammen covers them all and more, and turns up startling facts. For one, the subtitle of his book could just as well be, "From Bats to Humans." But what put the book over the top in excellence and dramatic page-turning was the penultimate chapter on the origin of AIDS. In some ways the whole book was moving toward this chapter. The origins of HIV can now be pinned to a year (much earlier than you’d think) and a single spillover event; chimp to human. And Quammen makes the poignant and chilling case that lest you wonder why we should care about exotic diseases such as Marbug, consider the exponential trajectory and devastation of AIDS. It too is a zoonotic disease, but one that has moved more slowly than an airborne NBO will surely do. Despite the theme – lively and buoyant writing. In other words, it’s readable. Quammen remains a master of science journalism.

  • Sebastien
    2018-10-27 12:44

    Superb! David Quammen brings to life the stories of a wide variety of infectious diseases and their spillover from animals to humans. David is a great writer, his narrative drive and prose are magnificent. He does this while presenting the science in a very accessible yet amazingly informative way.What is astounding is the amount of work and research that must have gone into this book. David conducted a seemingly endless amount of interviews with scientists, researchers, doctors. To say he took it to the next level, well that is a vast understatement. This is science journalism/writing at its pinnacle.My particular favorite was the section on the ecology of borrelia (lyme). This is a subject that hits close to home for me.The section on malaria was very intriguing, learned a lot. The coolest thing was learning that a form of malaria had been used as therapy to treat syphilis (a form of therapy known as pyrotherapy). That blew my mind. If you're curious, here's an article on the subject: was also fascinated by the HIV chapter. Could have done without his hypothesizing and reimagining of the original patient 0 story, I saw what he was trying to do, but that seemed a bit clunky and unnecessary. But that's a minor quibble with an otherwise outstanding book. Dang, the ebola chapter was incredible as well... so much good stuff in here.

  • Pierre Menard
    2018-10-25 08:05

    Avevo già letto qualche tempo fa un saggio del giornalista scientifico e inviato del National Geographic David Quammen (nato a Cincinnati, in Ohio, nel 1948): l'argomento era il lungo e tortuoso cammino che portò Darwin alla formulazione della sua teoria e devo dire che il libro mi aveva colpito favorevolmente, senza entusiasmarmi troppo. Perciò ero ben contento di leggere, insieme al GdL saggistica del gruppo GR Italia, l'ultimo saggio del nostro autore. Beh, confesso di averlo nettamente sottovalutato: Spillover è un vero capolavoro di divulgazione scientifica, affascinante, rigoroso, esauriente, chiarissimo, scritto molto bene e incredibilmente avvincente. L'ho letto in soli due giorni: preciso che ero in vacanza, quindi avevo molto tempo libero, tuttavia l'ho letteralmente divorato!Il tema centrale – epidemie e pandemie che nel passato e nel presente hanno colpito gli esseri umani e quelle che potrebbero farlo nell'immediato futuro – è tra i più attuali e interessanti. Quammen mette in campo un buon numero di fonti per raccontarci la storia delle malattie infettive umane di originale animale, le cosiddette zoonosi: la cronaca o la ricostruzione giornalistica, le testimonianze delle vittime e le interviste agli specialisti, gli articoli e i saggi scientifici, e infine il racconto delle proprie esperienze al seguito dei "cacciatori di virus".Una prova dell'abilità mostrata da Quammen nel costruire questo saggio si ha subito nel primo capitolo, che funge anche da prologo, in cui si narra della comparsa, nel settembre 2004, di un nuovo, misterioso, virus che attaccò e uccise numerosi cavalli prima di colpire alcuni esseri umani. La vicenda del virus Hendra - dal nome del sobborgo di Brisbane, nello stato australiano del Queensland, teatro della storia - viene assunta a case-study e fornisce a Quammen lo spunto per fornire le prime informazioni e mostrare al lettore come gli scienziati procedono per identificare le cause di una malattia e gli agenti (virali o batterici) che ne sono responsabili. Proprio nel primo capitolo vengono definiti i tre concetti chiave dell'intero saggio: zoonosi, malattia emergente e spillover, il salto di specie che l'agente patogeno può fare quando si verificano certe condizioni ideali (per lui, meno per chi ne viene colpito). Quammen sottolinea più volte che sono zoonosi quasi tutte le epidemie e pandemie che hanno colpito gli esseri umani nel corso dei secoli, in particolare negli ultimi 150 anni: tutti i tipi di influenza (compresa la famigerata spagnola, che tra il 1918 e il 1920 si stima abbia ucciso circa 50 milioni di individui in tutto il globo), la SARS, l'AIDS, la peste bubbonica, la rabbia, la malaria, il morbo di Lyme, l'antrace, le malattie causate dai virus Ebola, Marburg, Nipah etc. L'elenco è lunghissimo, e ci rammenta due cose importanti, dice Quammen: la prima è che l'uomo è un animale che al pari di cavalli, maiali e scimmie può essere infettato dagli stessi patogeni, opportunamenti mutati; la seconda è che il Next Big One, la prossima malattia emergente che diventerà per l'Homo Sapiens una pandemia, potrebbe essere con ogni probabilità una zoonosi.Credo che non si possa esagerare l'importanza delle riflessioni sulla stretta correlazione tra le zoonosi emergenti potenzialmente distruttive e l'impatto di Homo sapiens sul resto della biosfera (dal consumo del suolo alla disintegrazione degli ecosistemi, dall'inquinamento al riscaldamento globale, dallo sfruttamento indiscriminato delle risorse naturali alla sovrappopolazione). Secondo molti studiosi intervistati da Quammen, ci stiamo in un certo senso scavando la fossa da soli: sterminando le specie selvatiche, sostituendole con quelle addomesticate e aumentando noi stessi di numero, stiamo fornendo a virus e batteri un nuovo terreno di caccia, in cui le prede siamo noi stessi. Molto illuminante, a questo proposito, è il racconto delle abitudini culinarie dei cinesi meridionali, avidissimi di cibi esotici preparati con creature selvatiche nel cap. 4.La curiosità del lettore viene adeguatamente stimolata dai racconti delle spedizioni dei cacciatori di virus alle quali Quammen partecipa come testimone, e spesso come collaboratore: i tortuosi itinerari congolesi del team del biologo Mike Fay sulle tracce di Ebola e dei gorilla scomparsi (cap. 2); la caccia ai pipistrelli ferro di cavallo a Guilin, vicino Canton, al seguito del biologo Aleksei Chmura per scoprire di più sul virus della SARS (cap. 4); la cattura di macachi nel Santuario delle Scimmie di Sylhet, in Bangladesh, al seguito della squadra dei coniugi Jones-Engel alla ricerca dell'herpes B, patogeno che sembra colpire quasi esclusivamente ricercatori in virologia (cap. 6), etc. Nonostante i pericoli, che non provengono soltanto dai virus, ma anche dagli animali stessi (provate voi a imprigionare una decina di scimmie furibonde), Quammen ci dà un quadro molto realistico di cosa significa occuparsi di epidemiologia, immunologia e virologia, comunicandoci anche qualche particolare piuttosto curioso, come il fatto che i pipistrelli se ne stiano tranquilli appesi dentro a un sacchetto di tela. I cacciatori di virus costituiscono in realtà un gruppo molto eterogeneo: oltre ai biologi, agli etologi e agli zoologi che lavorano sul campo con gli animali, ci sono i medici e gli infermieri che curano gli ammalati, i ricercatori che isolano i patogeni in laboratorio e gli analisti che li studiano tra teoria ed esperimento. Quammen è molto attento a restituirci, nelle numerose interviste incluse nel saggio, il lato umano di tutti questi scienziati, impegnati in prima linea contro minacce microscopiche ma letali. Tra i "personaggi" di questo libro che mi hanno colpito di più il già citato Mike Fay, instancabile ricercatore che attraversa a piedi la giungla del Congo dividendo il suo lavoro tra raccolta dei campioni ed assistenza alle vittime dell'Ebola (cap. 2), Aleksei Chmura con cui Quammen ha un'interessante discussione sui limiti gastronomici della nostra specie (cap. 4), gli ingegnosi coniugi Cox-Singh che si sono inventati un nuovo modo per catturare il DNA in assenza di apparecchiature sofisticate (cap. 3), la coraggiosa infettivologa Brenda Ang, tra i primi a fronteggiare l'epidemia di SARS tra il 2002 e il 2003 (cap. 4), il virologo australiano e premio Nobel Frank Macfarlane Burnet, scopritore degli agenti infettivi della febbre Q e della psittacosi (cap. 5), Edward C. Holmes, il massimo esperto mondiale di virus a RNA (cap. 6), la ricercatrice Kelly Warfield, il cui incidente in laboratorio e la successiva quarantena è raccontato con accenti molto partecipati nel cap. 2. Molti di questi scienziati sono donne, e donne veramente in gamba: come l'etologa Jane Goodall e la virologa Beatrice Hahn, impegnate su fronti diversi per capire cosa è accaduto agli scimpanzé del Parco Nazionale di Gombe in Tanzania (cap. 8).Altri "personaggi" sono più inquietanti: i pipistrelli, che praticamente svolazzano in tutto il libro e costituiscono i cosiddetti "serbatoi" per la permanenza di patogeni atti a infettare l'uomo. Sorprende apprendere che i pipistrelli costituiscono il 25% delle specie mammifere sul pianeta e che vivono in condizioni di affollamento che potrebbero ricordare quelle di molte metropoli umane... Sono quindi da tenere d'occhio, anche perché sono o sembrano essere le specie da cui i principali flagelli descritti nel libro, da Ebola a Marburg, dalla rabbia a Hendra, possono compiere lo spillover verso l'uomo. E dire che molte donne li temono perché, secondo una nota credenza popolare, potrebbero impigliarsi nei capelli costringendo le malcapitate a tagliarsi la chioma...C'è molta scienza nel saggio e questo è uno dei suoi maggiori pregi. Quammen racconta con dovizia di particolari la genesi di alcune delle più note zoonosi, la lunga lotta per isolare i rispettivi agenti patogeni e le discussioni tra gli studiosi per analizzarne le caratteristiche. Le teorie dell'epidemiologia e della virologia sono presentate a partire da saggi e articoli scientifici, citati nelle note e raccolti poi nella lunga e dettagliata bibliografia (più di 25 pagine!): la disputa onda-particella sulla distribuzione geografica dell'Ebola (cap. 2) o il confronto tra virus a RNA e a DNA che porta al paradosso di Eigen (cap. 6), o ancora l'analisi statistica della virulenza che modifica in modo inquietante il vecchio assunto secondo il quale un patogeno non può uccidere in modo troppo efficace pena la propria estinzione come parassita (sempre nel cap. 6). Ho trovato particolarmente affascinanti i continui riferimenti alla matematica e alla statistica come discipline da integrare in modo profondo con l'epidemiologia e la citazione di alcune equazioni e modelli matematici di diffusione dei patogeni che hanno trovato piena conferma nella realtà. Per quanto open-minded e aperto a tutte le testimonianze, Quammen sente il bisogno di fare giustizia di resoconti e libri sensazionalistici e inaffidabili come The Hot Zone: The Terrifying True Story of the Origins of the Ebola Virus di Richard Preston (1994) e And the Band Played On: Politics, People, and the AIDS Epidemic di Randy Shilts (1987), con la consapevolezza che la diffusione del panico e l'invenzione di dettagli tanto macabri quanto fantasiosi non rendono mai un servizio alla scienza e alla società, come testimonia il pericoloso calo di vaccinazioni sperimentato nel nostro Paese da qualche anno a questa parte.Il saggio di Quammen aiuta a risolvere molti dubbi e interrogativi: ad esempio, perché vaiolo e poliomielite siano stati debellati, mentre sia difficilissimo trovare un vaccino per certi tipi di influenza o per l'HIV, oppure perché la riduzione della biodiversità costituisca un pericolo diretto per l'essere umano (si leggano le pagine dedicate alle probabili cause della diffusione del morbo di Lyme nel cap. 5). Le due dimensioni dello spillover, la spinta ecologia e quella evolutiva, di cui parla l'ecologo Jon Epstein, sono le chiavi per capire se un patogeno avrà o meno successo. Altrettanto importante è non lasciarsi fuorviare dalla teleologia, a discapito della statistica, e attribuire ai patogeni una volontà "vendicatrice" nei confronti dell'essere umano.Uno dei capitoli più belli è certo quello dedicato all'AIDS e all'HIV, scritto in forma di anello (e Quammen ne ha anche tratto materia per un breve saggio, intitolato The Chimp and the River: How AIDS Emerged from an African Forest): la ricostruzione dello spillover effettuato dal virus, dai primati all'uomo, è estremamente istruttiva e forse andrebbe riproposta nei corsi di scienze del liceo. Ricordo perfettamente l'emergere della malattia alla fine degli anni Ottanta, i dubbi legati ai meccanismi di diffusione e le numerose sciocchezze che all'epoca autorevoli esponenti politici propalavano alla popolazione senza preoccuparsi di impedire seriamente la diffusione del virus, magari suggerendo l'uso del preservativo nei rapporti occasionali o effettuando controlli sugli emoderivati infetti ("L'AIDS è una malattia che riguarda solo chi se la va a cercare", disse nel 1987 l'allora ministro della sanità, il DC Carlo Donat Cattin, alludendo a omosessuali e tossicodipendenti). Oggi ne sappiamo molto di più e perciò credo che le giovani generazioni che si apprestano a studiare medicina o biologia o biochimica potrebbero leggere con grande profitto il saggio di Quammen.Con l'ultimo capitolo si conclude in Montana il lungo giro del mondo che abbiamo compiuto in compagnia di Quammen e dei cacciatori di virus, dalle giungle tropicali del Congo e del Cameron ai sofisticati laboratori dell'USAMRIID di Fort Detrick in Maryland, dalle fattorie dei Paesi Bassi agli affollati mercati del Sud-Est asiatico, dalle pianure desolate dell'Australia ai santuari buddhisti in Bangladesh. Il traguardo è nei parchi di una cittadina del Montana dove abita l'autore che, impotente come i suoi concittadini, assiste all'outbreak dei lepidotteri della specie Malacosoma disstria, voraci divoratori di pioppi. Vi lascio leggere la storia dei piccoli insetti e l'interpretazione proposta dall'ecologo matematico Greg Dwyer, che a me ha messo più di un brivido nella schiena. Quammen tuttavia conclude il libro con una nota di speranza, affidata all'intelligenza e alla versatilità di noi esseri umani, che a differenza di altre specie siamo in grado di compiere scelte ponderate.Un altro punto di forza di questo brillante saggio è la traduzione scorrevolissima e di ottimo livello eseguita da Luigi Civalleri (di formazione fisico-matematico e docente del master in comunicazione scientifica della SISSA). Civalleri non si perita a lasciare nell'originale inglese termini del lessico specifico (fra cui quello che dà il titolo al libro), rendendo un ottimo servizio al lettore. Il volume è stato tradotto con il contributo del SEPS, un'associazione non-profit europea, con sede a Bologna, che si occupa di favorire la traduzione di saggi scientifici da una lingua all'altra.Unico piccolo neo: oltre alle cartine geografiche, sarebbe stato auspicabile inserire qualche immagine dei patogeni e soprattutto alcuni grafici e diagrammi relativi alla diffusione delle corrispondenti malattie. Se il saggio è completamente scevro dai toni sensazionalistici e dall'allarmismo che contraddistingue l'informazione odierna, la raffinata Adelphi ha deciso di regalarci un piccolo brivido con la copertina di un funebre nero su cui campeggia un inquietante pipistrello dagli occhi rossastri che plana su di noi pronto a infettarci... un po' kitsch, ma molto efficace!Consigliato agli aspiranti epidemiologi.Sconsigliato ai chiroptofobici.

  • Arun Divakar
    2018-11-10 07:47

    The hubris of homo sapiens lies in believing that it holds sway over this planet but then hidden away from anything but the most powerful electron microscopes are organisms that can wreak havoc on all of us. These microorganisms are hardy, smart and incredibly adaptable when it comes to the question of how to survive and thrive among the biodiversity of the earth. If you were to romanticize the whole concept then it becomes very easy to paint the pathogen as the most dreaded enemy of mankind/ nature’s revenge on us etc. However, a rational perspective tells a story which is entirely different and utterly fascinating in a deadly way. The microorganism’s capability to jump across species to man and thereby begin devastating outbreaks is the premise of the book and the scientific term for such a happening is Zoonosis. In the words of the author about the need of such a book :Why obsess about Zoonoses ? In the larger balance of miseries, what makes anyone think they should be taken so seriously ? It’s a fair question but there are good answers. Some of those answers are intricate and speculative. Some are subjective. Others are objective and blunt. The bluntest is this : AIDS. Let’s look at some zoonotic diseases other than AIDS : Ebola, Marburg, Avian and Swine Flu, SARS, Malaria, Hendra are but a few of them. All of these are without doubt some of the deadliest killer that we have encountered. David Quammen does a book length investigation into the history, nature and where we stand in the understanding of the microorganisms which cause these diseases. Quammen’s writing style is approachable and far less sensational than what I encountered with Richard Preston’s Hot Zone. While Preston horrified and thrilled me, Quammen offers a more informative and grounded view at the pathogens and their effects. He also travels far and wide for his research and converses with recovered patients, eyewitnesses, doctors and scientists and ergo a much more well-rounded view of what actually transpires during a disease outbreak comes to light. Of special mention is the chapter named The Chimp and River which is an in depth detective story that traces the journey of HIV from the jungles of Africa into the world at large. There are two things about the book that really caught my attention : • The number of mice and monkeys that die in the name of betterment and advancement of science in this book is huge. There were times when I paused and wondered if more of these hapless animals perish than humans.• Quammen is a first rate travel writer. His descriptions of Asia and Africa are measured views of anthropology, wildlife and the inevitable clash between the two.Parts of the book especially on the mathematical connects between the nature of mass outbreaks and about the lifecycles of viruses were difficult to comprehend. But that aside this is a fantastic book to understand how much nature has in store which man has no idea of. It also corrected for me the notion that nature uses viruses to eventually get back at humans ( courtesy Richard Preston). A virus is a non-thinking organism and one for which in a majority of the cases, a human host is next to an evolutionary dead end. It just so happens that with our invasive lifestyle, we breach the habitats of the virus and get caught in their snares.Recommended.

  • Jafar
    2018-10-20 10:47

    I try not to read books that make me paranoid or hypochondriac — and that's not the intention of this book — but I'll think twice next time that I'm in some exotic place and close to wild animals. The Monkey Forest in Bali was mentioned in this book in relation to herpes B (a deadly disease caused by a spillover from macaques monkeys to humans). Thanks goodness I feel a visceral revulsion towards monkeys. I didn't hand-feed any or let them climb up my head and shoulders so that I can take a picture with them. A little bite or scratch from the wrong monkey could seal your death sentence. This is a very well-researched, well-written, and highly-informative book on zoonosis — a pathogen leaping from an animal to humans. There have been recent scares with diseases like SARS and bird flu and swine flu that caused relatively limited damage and were contained. But you can never underestimate the danger of the Next Big One. We shouldn't forget that the Spanish flu at the end of the World War I killed by far more people than the war. As Quammen says, if you think we shouldn't concern ourselves too much with a local outbreak of an exotic disease like ebola that is caused by starving villagers in a remote corner of Congo eating a rotten dead chimp, the answer is: AIDS.The most interesting chapter of the book is the chapter on AIDS, which reads like a detective story. Here's the spoiler: the HIV virus first jumped from chimps to humans (quite likely when a hunter was butchering an infected chimp) somewhere in southeast Cameroon some time around 1908. What it was doing between then and the early 1980's when it became a global pandemic that has so far killed an estimated 35 million people is a fascinating story.

  • Kaethe
    2018-11-05 11:59

    This is a book about zoonoses, diseases that come to humans from other animals. It is scary, sure, because there are always new microbes out there ready to go rampaging through our vast society. It is also rather comforting, both the methodical search for vectors and reservoirs, the details of transmission and treatment, the stream of breakthroughs that enable researchers to locate and sequence. And through it all, Quammen maintains a casual, light conversational tone, reassuring the reader that sure, horrible new diseases can (and will) spring up seemingly out of nowhere to spread around the world, but that also we have been pretty good at controlling those sorts of outbreaks.There's quite a lot about Ebola here, written before this summer's outbreak. It should prove very comforting to everyone whose loved ones are not currently infected. I heap praise upon him for pointing out that it isn't nearly as grotesque as Preston painted it in The Hot Zone.The only part I really disliked was the pure fiction of The Voyager, which was too long and added nothing. This was particularly annoying as I was nearing the end and racing to finish quickly before the future biologist usurped in entirely.Library copyI don't usually comment on covers, but I will say that Chip Kidd managed to make a very disturbing one.

  • Becky
    2018-11-15 11:53

    I see why Quammen is so well thought of. Spillover was amazingly informative, had a near perfect execution, explained very difficult, scientific subjects in a manner that a reader with little science background could understand without making it so dumbed down that the same reader found themselves lost in a nexus of weakening metaphors and feeling insulted (I'm looking at you, Winchester). This is how you speak to your audience! You do not dumbdown, but rather heighten the discourse and inform. I learned so much, and was so in awe of what I was learning, and the research that was done by Quammen, and even more by the researching actively trying to save us from the "Next Big One" that nightly over dinner I'd tell my husband excitedly that he just HAD to read Spillover, because did you know this or that about ebola? Its the only audiobook that I have honestly considered restarting immediately. There is just so much to process here, so much that I realize I just didn't know, and so much more that I could learn from a second reading.This is a book that I think every person should read. There is as much (if not more) human interest as science, it can honestly keep you on the edge of your seat. I love nature, but it can be such a scary place without considering that maybe you just inhaled infected bat shit or dust from an aborted goat. But its also a beautiful place, where ecology matters, where there is balance, and as the eruption of human population continues (presumably unchecked for now) that balance is disturbed. I cannot stress enough, especially during this election cycle, how important an informed populace is. How can we make decisions in domestic protection, how we raise our livestock, how we tour, how we travel across the globe, how we transport EVERYTHING, how we mine, and how we manufacture if we are not informed of the consequences and the possible dangers of what we are doing. I'm not crazy, I'm not saying lets halt the world, but we need to understand that its not just about global warming, when ecologists are warning us of what we are doing to the planet. We have rapidly interconnected this world in a way that has never before happened. There are risks and benefits to that. Scientists are trying to study and prepare for the next big one, but should the unthinkable happen (its not unthinkable, its more that we refuse to think of it) how are we, as a populace, prepared to respond? We need to consider this.And, man, wash your hands if you butcher something, okay?

  • Charlene
    2018-10-24 12:56

    From start to finish, this book was nothing short of SPECTACULAR! It is longer than most science/ medicine books, but do not let that deter you. I was extremely sad when this book ended. I wanted more!In the middle of reading this book, I made the mistake of putting this book on pause to read the more recent Pandemic by Sonia Shah. Science is obviously not the authors strong suit. It was extremely disappointing. It might fly with people who are less scientifically literate. She had more up to date info on Ebola, which might draw in a huge readership, but her book doesn't hold a candle to this book. Quammen's book is a big WOW, on every level. When I finally returned from Pandemic, I was in such a foul mood, it was detracting from my enjoyment of this book. That only lasted for a little bit. I could not help but get sucked right back into all of Quammen's case studies and histories of various outbreaks. This book was well researched, extremely thorough, scientifically sound, well written, and entertaining as hell. His passion for his subject spilled over into every page and into me. I do not even want to give a summary of all the wonder inside this book because he tells the story of each virus so well, anything I would relate here feels like an actual spoiler. It is a must read!

  • John
    2018-10-18 12:13

    I found this book to be absolutely fascinating and I could not put it down. Essentially, the author makes it his mission to demonstrate how the ecological footprint of the human race profoundly affects the exposure to and infection by new and deadly viruses. For anybody who enjoyed reading The Hot Zone or watching the movie Outbreak, this book is right up your alley. The author takes us through many different viruses, providing the history behind their development, the story of their outbreak, and the role they play in their ecological niche. His list includes Hendra, Nippah, Ebola, Marburg, HIV/AIDS, SARS, and Malaria, while touching on others. If you have any background in the biological sciences, this book will make you feel smart. However, if you have no science background, this book will still enlighten you as the author makes sure to describe everything in lay terms, while simultaneously making you aware of it. All in all, i found this work to be quite salubrious, to quote the author's favorite word. It will open your eyes to the viral world around us, and make you think twice before stepping in to a bat cave on your next African vacation. Enjoy!

  • Annie
    2018-11-08 11:48

    First things first. I hate when I look at a nonfiction book table of contents and can’t tell by the name of the chapters what they cover. For those who feel the same, here is the annotated table of contents:I. Pale Horse (Hendra virus)II. Thirteen Gorillas (Ebola virus)III. Everything Comes From Somewhere (Malaria)IV. Dinner at the Rat Farm (SARS)V. The Deer, the Parrot, & the Kid Next Door (Q Fever, Psittacosis, and Lyme disease)VI. Going Viral (General Virus Stuff, but Especially HIV)VII. Celestial Hosts (About Animals That Transmit Disease, Especially Bats, and Also Focuses on the Nipah virus)VIII. The Chimp and The River (HIV)IX. It Depends (Viruses of the Future)Onto the review.I wasn’t thinking about it when I snagged it at the library, but this was the perfect book to follow up The Hot Zone (and, in fact, this book references that one). That was a concentrated, focused look at one distinct family of viruses, the filoviruses. It was also more dramatized. This one takes that zoomed-in look and contextualizes it. Reminds us that 60% of all infections diseases that affect humans come from animals via zoonosis. Ebola, Marburg (the stars of The Hot Zone), rabies, hantavirus, anthrax, Lassa, Rift Valley fever, yellow fever, dengue, west nile, sars, typhus, mad cow disease, all forms of influenza, bubonic plague, Lyme disease, AIDS, and countless more. The author also points out something interesting- the diseases we’ve mostly eradicated, like smallpox and polio, are the rare ones that aren’t passed to humans by animals. That’s why we were able to eradicate them. People are easier to keep track of and vaccinate than animals. Nowhere for them to hide. Whereas Marburg or Ebola can lurk forever in hidden corners of caves, immortal. And why are these diseases popping up now? Practically all of these zoonotic (species-hopping) diseases are new. Like, zoonotic diseases barely existed at all before the 1960s, after which they started popping up everywhere in myriad forms. Why? Because we’re tearing apart ecosystems, breaking down the natural fabric of things, spreading ourselves where we ought not be a-spreadin’. These diseases had their natural hosts. They didn’t kill the hosts, they mostly lived in harmony with the host in some remote corner of the world. But when we wreck that natural host’s home and kill lots of them off, what’s a virus to do but to jump ship and latch onto humans if it wants to survive? Finally, I’d like to thank David Quammen for summarizing my feelings on life nicely: “Mathematics to me is like a language I don’t speak, though I admire its literature in translation.”

  • Sue
    2018-11-16 07:52

    This book is a gripping tale of disease “spillover” that will thrill those interested in science – and probably many who aren’t. After all, we all get sick occasionally. Quammen looks at the ways pathogens (usually viruses) have spilled from animals to humans. He traces the origins of, among others, Ebola, SARS, bird flu, Lyme disease, and AIDS. These zoonotic diseases can escalate rapidly into global pandemics when human-to-human transmission occurs. For five years Quammen trailed scientists in their labs and in the field. Worldwide exchange of information turns out to be essential in epidemiology, and the solution to mysterious epidemics often means gathering data in far-flung places. Quammen himself traveled to China, to Bangladesh, to the Congo, to Connecticut. Data moves among such places, and so did the author. Everywhere there is mystery, drama, and good science.A long chapter (more than 20% of the book) traces the origins of HIV to a chimpanzee in Cameroon in the early 20th century. It’s a fascinating story. The author first tracked the evidence, working with scientists as they examined tissue samples that showed the spillover to be not in the 1980s, when the Western world first encountered it, but in the first decade of the 20th century. Quammen then allowed himself to think through a possible scenario which would have brought the virus down river to the Congo, initially moving slowly because its carriers might have died early of other causes, because the virus moved through areas of low population density, because it did not yet have the opportunity afforded by global travel and multiple sex partners.Ten years ago I had to abort a trip to Vietnam and China because of SARS, so the episode was very personal to me. That dread virus ran a deadly but short course. It turned out that the disease was transmissible after the person became ill, so it was eventually within the power of the health system to halt the spread. But it could reemerge. Civets, a diet delicacy blamed initially for the disease, turned out to be “amplifier” hosts but not “reservoir” hosts. This latter term applies to animals who host and live amicably with a virus which may cause great mischief in humans. For SARS, the reservoir was a bat, the amplifier was a civet, and the human who ate the civet was an unlucky, violently ill person. In fact, the eating of exotic (and often illegal) meats was a persistent theme in the entire book.As a non-scientist, I’ve possibly gotten a couple of things wrong in this review. Apologies. But I am pretty sure I’m going to be paying attention to the news about epidemics – as well as to, for example, ticks or exotic meats.

  • Emily
    2018-10-19 13:00

    This book is about zoonoses--illnesses that spread from animals to people. It describes the typical process: the virus or bacteria lives, long-term and harmlessly, in a reservoir species. When it infects an amplifier species, it can spread more quickly to humans. For example, the Hendra virus has its reservoir in flying foxes (large Australian bats), but when it infects horses, it can spread to people, who are in much closer contact with their sick horses than with bats. Not only are zoonoses threatening because new ones can appear unexpectedly (like SARS or HIV), they are also essentially impossible to eradicate, unlike (say) polio, which is only found in humans, whom you can vaccinate. Bats come off rather badly in this book. In the past, I've learned that you should like them because they eat harmful insects. It turns out that they are the source of all sorts of nasty bugs, in the virus sense of the word.Quammen writes quite a bit about his travels to research the book, or how one scientist introduces him to another. Not only does this give the book a bit of a travelogue feeling, it also acknowledges the essential contributions of the people who tranquilize angry macaques or go out in the middle of the night to rig up bat nets--without which none of the science would have happened. His style is vivid and entertaining, though there's one passage in the chapter about HIV/AIDS that is strangely novelistic. Not bad, just incongruous and unnecessary.Nothing in this book will make you change your behavior, unless you are remiss about handwashing or routinely eat things bats have shat on. At the end the author emphasizes: "The purpose of this book is not to make you more worried. The purpose of this book is to make you more smart. That's what most distinguishes humans from, say, tent caterpillars and gypsy moths. Unlike them, we can be pretty smart." I didn't find this book particularly scary--just informative--so don't avoid it just on those grounds.To the extent it contains a call to action, the book reminds us that human pressure on ecological systems creates havoc. A relatively short section deals with Lyme disease and reveals the startling conclusion that Lyme flourishes in isolated areas. Think the islands in a parking lot rather than a forest. It's where we come in contact with ecologies that we've disrupted that we find zoonoses.P.S. Bonus points for sending me to the dictionary: "cadastral."P.P.S. Further bonus points for this sentence, even if the sentiment isn't new: "[A]nyone who favors Intelligent Design in lieu of evolution might pause to wonder why God devoted so much of His intelligence to designing malarial parasites."

  • Correen
    2018-11-08 06:02

    An amazing and detailed description of movement of disease from animal to human, making the process seem normal but frightening. The final case presentation, AIDS, gave a new understanding of how a spillover of long standing could gradually take root and finally break out into a very threatening condition. The last chapter discusses the concept of breakout placing humans at the center.

  • Mal Warwick
    2018-10-24 09:07

    Where Do "Emerging Diseases" Emerge From?AIDS, Ebola, Marburg, SARS, H5N1 — every one of the world’s scariest diseases is a “zoonosis,” that is, a virus harbored by animals and transmitted to humans, often by other animals, in a complex minuet that often stretches out into decades.AIDS, for example. According to the latest research, reported by David Quammen in Spillover, Patient Zero was not that French-Canadian flight attendant you may have read about who went amok in the 1970s but a hunter in Southeast Cameroon around 1908 who killed a chimpanzee and somehow unwittingly allowed the animal’s blood to seep into his own circulatory system, either through a cut or by eating his prey’s raw flesh. This is the phenomenon that epidemiologists call “spillover.” At that point, a particularly virulent form of a recently emergent simian virus found a friendly and familiar environment in the hunter’s blood and flourished, becoming what we know today as HIV-1 (the more lethal form of the virus that causes AIDS). Later, the hunter passed along the virus to one or more women through sexual contact, and the disease slowly spread, both by sex and by transmission through reused needles, undetected as anything out of the ordinary, from Cameroon into what is now called the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Uganda, and other sub-Saharan countries, and thence by happenstance to Haiti. It was a Haitian harboring HIV-1 who probably passed it along to that notorious Canadian flight attendant, setting off the epidemic among gay men in North America.In Spillover, Quammen tells tales like these in fascinating detail, relating the stories of the often-heroic scientists, physicians, and veterinarians who worked directly with deadly diseases, occasionally at the cost of their own lives. Quammen spent years writing this book. He appears to have read all the relevant scientific literature, attended specialized scientific conferences, and spent long hours tracking down and speaking face-to-face with the people who discovered these diseases, isolated the viruses, first treated the symptoms, and labored for thankless years on end in laboratories around the world to help humanity avert the next pandemic.You may have read Richard Preston’s best-selling 2001 treatment of the emergence of Ebola in The Hot Zone. If not, I can tell you that I vividly recall the book because it was so dramatic, and so terrifying. No doubt I had nightmares about contracting Ebola. But it turns out, according to Quammen and to the eminent scientists he interviewed, that Preston’s account was sensationalized and highly inaccurate in essential details. For example, he described tears of blood, massive hemorrhages, and melted internal organs, none of which has any basis in fact.However, Spillover, in its own way, is no less frightening. Quammen advances the popular theory that what appears to be the accelerating emergence of dangerous new pathogens became inevitable as a result of the enormous population growth of homo sapiens — because humanity has increasingly encroached on animal habitat and come into intimate contact with animals as never before. In discussions with noted biologists, he explores the concept of “breakout,” the explosive growth frequently seen in some animal species that shortly leads to sudden, catastrophic — through disease. He intimates that, with AIDS — or, all too possibly, with the next pandemic — humankind may experience something similar. Despite all the horrific details about AIDS, Ebola, Marburg, and the like, these are the book’s scariest passages.David Quammen writes about science, nature, and travel — a total of 10 nonfiction books and five novels to date. A former Rhodes Scholar, he was educated at Yale and Oxford.(From

  • Lea
    2018-11-12 08:58

    This is a very interesting analysis of emerging zoonotic diseases, focusing on SARS, HIV, and Ebola, among others. There are so many facts here, it's a little overwhelming -- I learned so much that I'd never even thought of before, including the fact that HIV can actually be traced back to, wait for it . . . 1908?! Yeah, I didn't believe it at first, either, but the author clearly presents this in a way that is easy even for a non-scientist like myself to understand.After reading this, I can tell you for sure that I will NEVER go anywhere near a bat again -- these beautiful animals are apparently THE virus clearinghouse, for reasons that are explored in depth in this book.Ever wonder why we were able to effectively eradicate smallpox, but can't seem to put an end to malaria? Yep, it's in here.Here are a couple of quotes from the end of the book that I found interesting:"So before we respond either calmly or hysterically, either intelligently or doltishly, we should understand in some measure the basic outlines and dynamics of the situation. We should appreciate that these recent outbreaks of new zoonotic diseases, as well as the recurrence and spread of old ones, are part of a larger pattern, and that humanity is responsible for generating that pattern. We should recognize that they reflect things that we're DOING, not just things that are HAPPENING to us. WE should understand that, although some of the human-caused factors may seem virtually inexorable, others are within our control.""That's the salubrious thing about zoonotic diseases: They remind us, as St. Francis did, that we humans are inseparable from the natural world. In fact, there IS no "natural world," it's a bad and artificial phrase. There is only the world."" . . . Dwyer's models have shown that heterogeneity of behavior, even among forest insects, let alone among humans, can be very important in damping the spread of infectious disease. . . . individual effort, individual discernment, individual choice can have huge effects in averting the catastrophes that might otherwise sweep through a herd. An individual gypsy moth may inherit a slightly superior ability to avoid smears of NPV as it grazes on a leaf. An individual human may choose not to drink the palm sap, not to eat the chimpanzee, not to pen the pig beneath mango trees, not to clear the horse's windpipe with his bare hand, not to have unprotected sex with the prostitute, not to share the needle in a shooting gallery, not to cough without covering her mouth, not to board a plane while feeling ill, or not to coop his chickens along with his ducks. "Any tiny little thing that people do," Dwyer said, if it makes them different from one another, from the idealized standard of herd behavior, "is going to reduce infection rates." "So why only three stars? David Quammen -- I wanted to add his author link right there, but GR won't let me, but go look him up because he's written a ton of interesting books -- is more than capable of writing a non-fiction book that would hold anyone's interest, yet he insists on inserting some extremely long passages of pure fiction as he speculates on the exact circumstances leading to the emergence of HIV-1. My husband will tell you, I'm more of a "just the facts" kind of person -- I neither need nor want speculation, especially when the facts are compelling on their own. If that kind of thing doesn't bother you, you may rate this one higher.Even with that, I would still recommend this.

  • Matty-Swytla
    2018-11-04 08:53

    A very good bok with scientific, yet approachable explanations to why zoonoses (animal diseases that infect humans) are so scary and deadly, especially when it comes to certain new viruses. The fact is zoonotic viruses and other diseases infect humans on a regular basis. I know; I was infected with ringworm (Dermatophytosis) by my kittens a few years ago - it's a fungal infection that spreads like fire. No fun but no biggie either. But any pet owner knows the drill on vaccinations for rabies and other diseases for dogs and cats. Some of these make the jump to humans with devastating results.The differences between carriers, natural reservoirs, and amplifiers is fascinating and illuminating. Some animals only spread viruses, bacteria or other illness-inducing organisms (mosquitoes for malaria); others live with them, a certain population of infected yet not very ill reservoirs from whence other animals and humans can get infected (bats, monkeys); while some animals get very ill and spread the infections further (amplifiers - often some domestic animals like pigs or poultry). It's important to make the distinction bewteen these or we won't know where to fight the disease in the first place. The book highlights why we should care about natural habitats, treat our animals with care, and not board a plane when feeling sick (!), but it doesn't fear-monger in any way. Yes, it does point out what people should or shouldn't do, what are the risk factors for contracting some exotic diseases, but it also highlights that ordinary diseases kill far more people than ebola, for example. Coronary disease, cancers, diabetes, traffic accidents... familiar killers we've gotten used to don't scare us as they should, while the thought of contracting a virus from a bat makes some people fear them like the plague. What the author makes clear time and time again is that local farmers in some god-forsaken parts of third-world countries (but in the West as well - not everyone is an epidemiologist or veterinarian) can't understand the full impact of an outbreak among their flock before it spreads. So education is key, and fast response from laboratories, research facilites, and medical institutions. I was amazed how much difference fast cooperation among scientists and medical doctors makes in terms of outbreak containment. Why doesn't the media highlight these achievements more and make people interested in science? What will it take? The next big virus or outbreak is just around the corner - it may be our ordinary flu not ebola.

  • Patrick
    2018-11-17 11:48

    This book has so much information packed into it I feel like I should get a masters degree after finishing it. Of course, it is around 520 pages not including the footnotes, references, etc., including a bit of speculative fiction from the author about the origin of the AIDS epidemic. Nevertheless, I learned so many things about animal/human spillovers and I would enthusiastically recommend this book.Some people who've reviewed this book remark that it is scary or depressing to know more about the subject and would have preferred to have remained ignorant of how prevalent animal to human transmission is. For example, I had no idea about Hendra or Nipah before reading this book, but I think they fit in well with the overall picture the author presents. I find it reassuring, however, to know that there are courageous scientists out there putting their lives at risk to help learn more about these viruses and hopefully prevent an outbreak on a massive scale.I also found it interesting that although Ebola (a hot topic now) is a scary disease, it does not cause many of the symptoms that have been popularised by books such as "The Hot Zone". On the other hand, it was disturbing to find out that there is a virus which attacks caterpillars which does liquify their insides and swell their bodies until they burst "like water balloons". And finally I have to express my admiration for the author's tenacity and thoroughness when researching this book. He traveled all over the world, including places many people would not want to go, to make sure he covered all the angles. And I enjoyed his excellent explanations of complicated topics and his wry remarks throughout the book; I'll have to check out some of his other books as well.

  • Spencer
    2018-10-26 09:47

    Yet another incredibly fascinating book from one of my all-time favorite authors, David Quammen. This book is about zoonotic viruses, meaning viruses that "spillover" from animals to humans. Many of these are familiar to all of us: HIV, Ebola, SARS, influenza, etc., although some are less well known. These (and many, many others) all trace their origins to species other than humans. Some of the most common "reservoirs" of these diseases are primates, bats, and birds, and the way in which viruses make their way into humans is very interesting and, at times, terrifying. Throughout the book we are taken on a journey into the deepest and darkest corners on earth, into the distant past and back to the present, and into the complex (and fascinating) histories of many of the world's deadliest diseases. David Quammen is a masterful writer who makes each topic a pure joy to read about. He also is not content to do his research from his office...he always visits the sites himself, meets the key people and experiences things firsthand...then passes those adventures and experiences on to us, the lucky readers. If you haven't read anything by David Quammen, I would highly suggest you pick up one of his books. They are all fantastic, and "Spillover" would be a great place to start!