Of possible pandemics

The Viral Storm: The Dawn of a New Pandemic Age, by Nathan Wolfe, Penguin, RRP£9.99, 304 pages

“Around one in 15 individuals reading this book are infected with a virus that jumped into them from a monkey,” writes Nathan Wolfe in his whistle-stop tour of the invisible world, The Viral Storm.

Viruses and other forms of “unseen life” account for more biomass than the planet’s visible flora and fauna; viruses are swift to mutate and their resilience has increased in the era of globalised travel and intensive livestock production. There is (moderately) good news for those who who worry about pandemics: only a few viruses are effective at both killing and spreading – from animals to humans, and between humans.

Wolfe’s field experience gives his work a rich anecdotal exuberance. Shortlisted for the Royal Society’s Winton prize, The Viral Storm covers threats from rabies and bird flu to biological terrorism. Wolfe explores the scientific potential for moving from reaction to prediction and – “the Holy Grail of modern public health” – prevention.

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