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Year : 2020  |  Volume : 26  |  Issue : 2  |  Page : 125-126

From Spanish flu to COVID: The Pandemic Century

Department of Neurosurgery, Pattom, Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala, India

Date of Submission09-Aug-2020
Date of Decision13-Aug-2020
Date of Acceptance14-Oct-2020
Date of Web Publication07-Nov-2020

Correspondence Address:
Ekbal Bappukunju
Department of Neurosurgery, Pattom, Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/ksj.ksj_26_20

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How to cite this article:
Bappukunju E. From Spanish flu to COVID: The Pandemic Century. Kerala Surg J 2020;26:125-6

How to cite this URL:
Bappukunju E. From Spanish flu to COVID: The Pandemic Century. Kerala Surg J [serial online] 2020 [cited 2022 Jun 26];26:125-6. Available from: http://www.keralasurgj.com/text.asp?2020/26/2/125/300234

Author: Mark Honigsbaum

Publisher: WW Norton

Price: Rs 413 (Paper Back) Rs 385.86 (Kindle Edition)

Pages: 384 pages

ISBN: 978-0753558287

Mark Honigsbaum's The Pandemic Century: One Hundred Years of Panic, Hysteria, and Hubris (W.W. Norton, 2019), discusses crucial global outbreaks and highlights their social and cultural aspects and scientific underpinnings. This is a deeply researched work that will be read avidly by all who are interested to know more about pandemics and their impact on the human society and scientific pursuits. This most timely and informative and educative book traces over 100 years of pandemics starting from the early 1900s with the spread of Spanish flu to the currently ravaging corona virus respiratory pathology COVID-19, which is devastating the whole world, producing misery and uncertainty all over the world.

The 1918–1919 Spanish influenza pandemic spread fast affecting 500 million people, one-fourth population of that time, killing over 50 million people. This motivated public health experts to take steps to prevent such catastrophic outbreaks of infectious diseases. Yet, despite a century of medical progress, viral and bacterial disasters continue to take humanity by surprise, killing millions of people and producing irrevocable damage to the society. From the Spanish flu and the 1924 outbreak of pneumonic plague in Los Angeles, to the 1930 'parrot fever' pandemic and the more recent SARS, Ebola, Zika and now COVID-19 epidemics, the last 100 years have been marked by a succession of unanticipated pandemic alarms.

In The Pandemic Century, Mark Honigsbaum chronicles with meticulous details of 100 years of history in ten major outbreaks in different continents and countries. Bringing us right up to date with a detailed documenting on COVID-19, this fact-filled and scientifically sound book combines the history of infectious diseases, medical sociology and thrilling front-line personal reportage to deliver the story of our times. Honigsbaum without any hesitation brings to our attention dedicated disease searchers, bureaucratic and insensitive public health officials and highly talented scientists who are often unaware of their own expertise and contributions. In this extremely readable book, we come face to face with the brilliance and medical hubris shaping both the frontier of science and the future of humanity's survival.

Even though a lot of progress has been made in the whole world during the last 100 years and great progress has been made in the diagnostic investigations and treatment of diseases all over the world, the new virus had created great disasters. The unexpected pandemic has taken the whole world by surprise, inflicting significant hardship to the whole population with very greater risk of death in the very young and the elderly, thus producing much uncertainty for the whole population irrespective of sex, cast, creed or religion. All the newspapers and news channels are full of news about the whole pandemic with restrictions in movement and producing loss of earning for most of the middle-income group and giving great misery for the downtrodden population. The unexpected deaths in the healthcare professionals add panic and dominate the news channels. In The Pandemic Century, a vivid detail of the intensity of the scare of the future of both infamous and lesser known is given. The author gives a detailed account of the history of the last 100 years in the science and medical sociology to artfully reconstruct epidemiological mysteries and the ecology of various infectious diseases. Much interest is created by the author's depiction of the great strides made by various progressive scientists and also the incompetence shown by some of the people at the centre point of the organisation of the diagnosis and treatment of the various maladies that have occurred and inflicted humankind during the last 100 years. Many have often been blinded by their own knowledge of bacteria and viruses. The author shows how fear of disease often exacerbates racial, religious and ethnic tensions.

The Pandemic Century has been described by a critique as one of the epics in scope, spanning Spanish flu, parrot fever and plague to Legionnaires Disease and SARS to HIV/AIDS, Ebola, Zika and COVID. Apart from the pure scientific aspect of the pandemics, Honigsbaum explores to gauge how income, early childhood development, education, employment, housing, gender and race impact the 21st-century health. At the same time conceding that '…”nature” is the greatest bioterrorist of them all', Honigsbaum shows how other by-products of contemporary life – think roads and transportation; urbanisation and crowding; healthcare facilities; religious and ethnic tensions; media and climate change – have helped to fuel modern pandemics. Honigsbaum goes beyond the usual health subject writings and in effect discusses the social determinants of pandemics. He explains in inimitable style the ecologies of human infectious diseases – both those that are stubbornly entrenched and those that go rogue – which are multi-layered and with different dimensions.

In The Pandemic Century, Honigsbaum very well sums up what he intended to convey to the readers 'The Pandemic Century reconstructs epidemics and pandemics from the ground up while attempting to avoid the tropes of the 'outbreak narrative'. Drawing on studies of science and technology and the theory of knowledge, I tried to show how in each of the epidemics and pandemics, with the exception of HIV/AIDS, medical researchers were blinded by scientific paradigms and limited laboratory tools. I also wanted to challenge the current global health security discourse by reminding readers of the insights of the mid-20th century, ecologically minded researchers like Rene Dubos, Karl Friedrich Meyer and Frank MacFarlane Burnet. So, while this is a book for the general reader'.

As Honigsbaum hopes, The Pandemic Century will reverberate with medical scientists, medical historians and students of global health, and it is a must read for all in the period of the COVID pandemic.


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