Christina Ramos's Reviews > The Demon in the Freezer

The Demon in the Freezer by Richard Preston
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Jun 15, 11


Those of us who suffered through chickenpox during childhood might be inclined to think of a disease like smallpox as something almost innocuous. Sure we may have heard of native populations being wiped out by the arrival of the disease when brought over by their European and Spanish conquerors, but surely in this day and age we have eliminated the threat posed by the virus, right? Wrong. Though touted widely as having been "eradicated" decades ago, smallpox exists in a few known depositories in the world as well as some unknown... It is also anything but harmless. The virus can travel like a gas and be inhaled. Infected persons are able to transmit virus particles through coughing (unlike more widely feared viruses like Ebola which need direct contact to infect others). Once the virus spreads in a victim it causes them to break out in pustules all over their body. In some cases these pustules meet up and cause the skin to separate and ribbon off from the body. Death is almost certain. Though scientists have come up with something akin to a vaccine (which cannot be used on 20% of the population and can end up killing some of the people who do use it) there is the very real threat that someone can genetically engineer the virus to become resistant to vaccines. This book was written shortly after September 11th, when terrorism (and bio-terrorism) was very much on people's minds. In the wake of letters mailed with Anthrax spores which did infect and kill a few people, this book attempts to figure out what would happen if someone got their hands on weapons grade smallpox virus and unleashed it on a hapless population.
The book is written in Preston's typical style, with unabashed admiration for the scientists and government officials he interviews and pals around with for the duration of his research. Just as in The Hot Zone, we spend time in a lab testing viruses on monkeys. Somehow this book doesn't really come close to The Hot Zone (which kept me on the edge of my seat the entire time and made me wish I was working at the CDC studying Level 4 hot viruses). It may not be Preston's fault. Dangerous as smallpox may be it certainly doesn't capture the attention of the public like horror of Ebola does.
All in all this book was pretty good but if you haven't read The Hot Zone and your interest lies in viruses in general and not specifically smallpox, I suggest you pick that one up instead.
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