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Layperson’s guide to pandemics

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PANDEMICS, by Nobel Laureate Professor Peter Doherty, is based on the premise of equipping the public to be alert, not alarmed.

The book, using a question-and-answer format, begins by giving the reader a crash course in the immune system and how the human body responds to invaders. It then provides a historical overview of pandemics and how respiratory infections, like influenza, are the greatest pandemic threat. Doherty then outlines the role of animals, such as birds and bats, as well as the influence of climate change, antibiotic resistance and air travel on how diseases are spread. He discusses the strengths and limitations of the responses to pandemics, and how we might protect ourselves against them in the future.

Although the book is aimed at a lay audience, the level of information provided borders, at times, on the overwhelming. Yet, at the point when readers might begin to despair and give up, Doherty acknowledges the problem and provides a precis that helps to reorient the reader to the key point being made. That said, it is likely to be only the very interested and dedicated who will continue to persevere in some sections. However, this does not detract from the overall usefulness of the book.

The final chapter, which deals with personal responsibility, should be compulsory reading for anyone who ever travels. It hammers home the message of the role that…