Rated Reads

Inside the Outbreaks: The Elite Medical Detectives of the Epidemic Intelligence Service by Mark Pendergrast

by Mark Pendergrast

Rated: Moderate

Have you even heard of the Epidemic Intelligence Service? Until my younger sister began getting a degree in public health, I had no idea it even existed. It’s a group of people who spend two years going out into the “field” and being, really, disease detectives. When there is an outbreak of bizarre symptoms, EIS officers are there to investigate and try to diagnose. If there are multiple cases of known diseases, such as e coli or H1N1, they rush to try and determine the source of each case to decide if there is an epidemic and, if so, how to stop it. They’re like a disease CSI unit, tracing clues and interviewing “suspects.”

Seriously, it’s interesting stuff. This book is a history of the EIS and is told, almost exclusively, in short vignettes. There is some political stuff in there, of course, because it’s an agency that’s supported by the government, but mostly it’s just stories of diseases! We learn about the discovery of ebola, the eradication of smallpox, the polio vaccination effort, SARS and on and on. Your heart will break at the horrible stories of cholera epidemics and refugee camps — EIS officers literally travel the globe with only one goal: to stop people from getting sick.

After reading this book I feel that we, as citizens of this earth, owe so much to these public health workers. They are on the front lines when all kinds of terrifying diseases are spreading, and they put their own lives on the line to try to spare us, spare me, from illness. They fight for clean water for everyone, for food safety regulations and hospital sanitation regulations. I found this book fascinating. Granted, the book is clearly biased towards the organization — it’s all very “LOOK how amazing this is!” But based on the stories, I just can’t disagree. I love this new knowledge that I have and I certainly have a greater awareness of how lucky I am to live in a clean, safe place.

I have tried other books on this subject and couldn’t make myself finish them, so I’m telling you, if you have any interest in epidemiology, I totally recommend this one.

Rated: Moderate for language (two f-bombs) and multiple other uses of mild language. There is also a lot of talk about sex — nearly always in a medical sense, but there is a section about AIDS and homosexual sex that might make some readers uncomfortable.

— Reviewed by Corinne Edwards

Corinne Edwards is always happiest when a book is in her hand. If her current read needs to be closed for a short time, either in her backpack while she leads her three rambunctious children on adventures, or on her nightstand while she sleeps, that's okay too. Her book thoughts and reviews land at her bookish blog, The Book Nest.

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  • Inside the Outbreaks: The Elite Medical Detectives of the Epidemic Intelligence Service by Mark Pendergrast
  • by Mark Pendergrast
  • Rated: Moderate
  • Genre: Nonfiction
  • Reviewer: