BEATING BACK THE DEVIL: On The Front Lines with the Disease Detectives of the Epidemic Intelligence Service
Top 10 Science Books of 2004, Amazon.com
Outstanding Academic Title, American Library Association
Best Nonfiction Books of 2004, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Georgia Author of the Year, 2004
always keep a bag packed. They seldom have more than twenty-four hours'
notice before they are dispatched. The phone calls that tell them to
head to the airport, sometimes in the middle of the night, may give them
no more information than the country they are traveling to and the
epidemic they will tackle when they get there.
The universal human instinct is to run from an outbreak of disease. These doctors run toward it.
are the disease detective corps of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control
and Prevention, the federal agency that tracks and tries to
prevent disease outbreaks and bioterrorist attacks around the world.
They are formally called the Epidemic Intelligence Service — a group
founded more than fifty years ago out of fear that the Korean War might
bring the use of biological weapons — and, like intelligence operatives
in the traditional sense, they perform their work largely in anonymity.
They are not household names, but over the years they were first to
confront the outbreaks that became known as hantavirus, Ebola virus, and
AIDS. Now they hunt down the deadly threats that dominate our
headlines: West Nile virus, anthrax, and SARS.
this riveting narrative, Maryn McKenna — the only journalist ever given
full access to the EIS in its fifty-three-year history — follows the first
class of disease detectives to come to the CDC after September 11, the
first to confront not just naturally occurring outbreaks but the
man-made threat of bioterrorism. They are talented researchers — many with
young families—who trade two years of low pay and extremely long hours
for the chance to be part of the group that has helped eradicate
smallpox, push back polio, and solve the first major outbreaks of
Legionnaires' disease, toxic shock syndrome, and E. coli O157.
Urgent, exhilarating, and compelling, Beating Back the Devil goes with the EIS as they try to stop epidemics—before the epidemics stop us.
McKenna was so close to the first group of E.I.S. officers trained
after 9/11 that she could practically smell the adrenaline rush they got
from being on call in case bioterrorism
or a deadly disease struck anywhere on the globe. In McKenna's hands,
outbreak investigations read as richly textured mysteries worthy of P.D.
- Patricia Thomas, Knight Chair in Health and Medical Journalism, University of Georgia, and author of Big Shot: Passion, Politics, and the Struggle for an AIDS Vaccine
her enthralling first book, Maryn McKenna takes us inside the
unexplored world of the Epidemic Intelligence Service, a vital but
rarely discussed part of our national public health service. Without
McKenna's thorough research and lively narrative, who would have known
of the crusading role the EIS has played since the 1950s in solving our
most perplexing medical mysteries? In a new world of bioterror threats
and harrowing viruses, McKenna's book is a must-read for anyone
concerned about the daunting medical challenges of the future."
- Marilyn W. Thompson, Washington Post, deputy national editor, author of The Killer Strain: Anthrax and a Government Exposed
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….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, Amazon.com
Buy Beating Back the Devil
Read a sample
Prologue: Bioterror training
Chapter 1: First meetings, first outbreaks
Chapter 13: The race to solve SARS
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