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The Coming Plague
Read in 16 min.
Listen in 21 min.
Learn the key ideas of the book by Laurie Garrett

The Coming Plague

Understanding just how epidemics develop

The Coming Plague is an interesting journey of discovery into the world of microbiology. Published for the first time in 1994, it is still very current. Not only does it tell the stories linked to the discoveries of viruses such as Ebola and AIDS, but it also examines the historical and environmental context that favours the development of new illnesses. History tends to repeat itself, so becoming familiar with the past can help us to understand the present. Humankind has a huge responsibility to prevent new epidemics, as well as managing existing ones. Viruses will always be around and we humans must develop the ability to recognise and accept this fact, in order to adapt our choices and actions, and in order to be able to live in harmony with them. 

The Coming Plague
Read in 16 min.
Listen in 21 min.

The real enemies are microorganisms like viruses and bacteria

Viruses, like bacteria or fungi, are part of our world. They are microorganisms that live according to their own ecosystem. There is a difference between viruses and bacteria. Viruses are extremely small and can only be seen under a microscope. Bacteria, on the other hand, are larger. Both have been, and still are, a threat to mankind.

Among the bacteria that we know are, for example, staphylococci and streptococci, for which a cure was found in 1928 with Alexander Fleming’s penicillin. Also known as the miracle medicine, penicillin has been in hospital care protocols since 1944. Today, bacteria are treated with antibiotics, whereas viruses cannot be killed by antibiotics. Viruses include all those microorganisms such as the Herpes Zoster virus, the Ebola virus or HIV. Viruses often remain in the body for years, hide or ally themselves with the cells of the immune system, and they can manifest again even after some time.

Just as humans evolve, microorganisms also mutate and adapt to the conditions in which they find themselves. That is why nothing can defeat viruses, even in the future. They are man’s true enemies. They did not disappear when man invented vaccines, medicine or antibiotics. They have resisted by adapting, and they will not leave just because man has decided that they are no longer required. Indeed, the challenge for man continues, as viruses will continue to exist and as new viruses will develop.


The key ideas of "The Coming Plague"

The real enemies are microorganisms like viruses and bacteria
The problem arises when viruses spread from animals to humans
The first studies on viruses. The Colombian Machupo virus case
Defeating a new virus can be an enormous challenge
How a virus works in the human body
The HIV/AIDS case as an example of a complex epidemic that is difficult to manage
Man is responsible for the spread of new epidemics
Viruses will always be present and we need to learn to live with them
Take-home message
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