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Publisher's Summary

Take a visit to the frontline as scientists fight to solve medical mysteries.

Despite advances in health care, infectious microbes continue to be a formidable adversary to scientists and doctors. Vaccines and antibiotics, the mainstays of modern medicine, have not been able to conquer infectious microbes because of their amazing ability to adapt, evolve, and spread to new places. Terrorism aside, one of the greatest dangers from infectious disease we face today is from a massive outbreak of drug-resistant microbes.

Deadly Outbreaks recounts the scientific adventures of a special group of intrepid individuals who investigate these outbreaks around the world and figure out how to stop them. Part homicide detective, part physician, these medical investigators must view the problem from every angle, exhausting every possible source of contamination. Any data gathered in the field must be stripped of human sorrows and carefully analyzed into hard statistics.

Author Dr. Alexandra Levitt is an expert on emerging diseases and other public health threats. Here she shares insider accounts she's collected that go behind the alarming headlines we've seen in the media: mysterious food poisonings, unexplained deaths at a children's hospital, a strange neurologic disease afflicting slaughterhouse workers, flocks of birds dropping dead out of the sky, and drug-resistant malaria running rampant in a refugee camp. Meet the resourceful investigators - doctors, veterinarians, and research scientists - and discover the truth behind these cases and more.

©2013 Alexandra Levitt (P)2013 Audible, Inc.

What listeners say about Deadly Outbreaks

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  • Overall
    2 out of 5 stars
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    2 out of 5 stars

Not the top of the class...

Although this book deals with a subject which I find endlessly fascinating, I must conclude it was a disappointment.

The writing is uninspired and sloppy. Perhaps the author would have benefited from a co-author with more varied and interesting prose style, or at least a keen-eyed editor. One glaring mess that stand out in my mind is when a patient with Hanta virus is described as "going into cardiac arrest, and shock." Pretty sure that should be the other way around, which I assume the author knows. Unfortunately, careless errors like that make it hard to lend much credence.

I'm not sure if the print version is any more enjoyable but this was not a good audio version. Narrated by Julie McKay, it is delivered like an instruction manual for assembling furniture. She spells out abbreviations and acronyms constantly ("U-S-A-M-R-I-I-D") instead of utilizing common pronunciations. Her pronunciation of medical terminology leaves a lot to be desired. These things may sound nit-picky, but anyone who reads a lot of audiobooks knows that a narrator can make or break a book!

There are many interesting books on epidemiology; this is just not one of them. "Beating Back the Devil" by Maryn McKenna is a much better book dealing with EIS, and "Spillover" by David Quammen is a really engaging read dealing specifically with diseases that cross over from animal reservoirs. I would recommend both of those a hundred times over "Deadly Outbreaks."

18 people found this helpful

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Do Not Judge this Book too Early!

Any additional comments?

Do not be off-put by the acronym-laden sentences especially in the intro and first chapter. After experiencing the whole book, I can build a case for the "case study" chosen for chapter one. However, it builds slowly, failing to provide a true sense of the book. Be patient! So worth it! Every chapter is a true short story as adrenaline-pumping as the best (well-researched) medical thrillers. It is not necessary to read the chapters in order. Ultimately, this truly impressive book provides an excellent tutorial into microbiology & epidemiological research work. And is primarily shared in "page-turning" drama. Highly recommend! I immediately searched for another book by this author. I hope one is produced soon.

4 people found this helpful

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Narrator un-listenable. Captain Kirk at 1/2 speed.

The material, while done and redone by others before was at least interesting. I had to return it for credit after a few hours because of the narration. The woman sounded like Captain Kirk on heavy sedation. Within the first 5 minutes I cranked it up to 1.25 X speed because she spoke so slowly that It hurt my ears. Even 1.25 was too slow but 1.5X sounded strange. And she had unnatural pauses the way William Shatner did in Star Trek. "The...virus was a particularly.............virulent....strain.....that hadn't been.....seen.....before." Oh, my. Not trying to make fun, but it was awful. After the 7th time of hearing "USAMRIID" spelled out "u-s-a-m-r-i-i-d" I threw in the towel. I'll get a used copy of the book or get it on Kindle if I really want to finish it.

2 people found this helpful

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The delivery really kills this one

One of my favorite topics for nonfiction books. However, it's REALLY hard to get past the narrator on this one. It seems to plod along in a very monotone delivery. Common acronyms are spelled out rather than pronounced phonetically (USAMRIID for example). The organization of the chapters seems to vary as well.

4 people found this helpful

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Narration is cringe worthy

Julie McKay should stick to narrating children's books if she can't pronounce any better than in this book. Horrible. I have heard most of these cases before. The Philadelphia Legionnaires, the ice cream incident, etc. Very repetitive of other works.

4 people found this helpful

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Very meh and honestly annoying.

Upfront: I have degrees in microbiology and medical technology and spend a lot of my time in my job reporting infectious diseases, so maybe I’m too harsh. BUT.

1: pronunciation leaves much to be desired and I was so bothered by it (my fav: Mayo pronounced May-YO). Acronyms like USAMRIID are spelled out every time even though they’re actually said like a word. Just so much 😖

2: why are we going into complex science concepts with poor explanations? If I didn’t have my degrees and background, it’s very unlikely that I would have understood much of those portions. This could make the book very unenjoyable for many.

3: I LITERALLY COULD NOT CARE LESS ABOUT WHAT THE HELL THE EPIDEMIOLOGISTS ATE FOR DINNER. WTF?! There was so much unneeded and USELESS filler in this book.

4: these stories were dragged out. They could’ve been much shorter and therefore better.

5: holy overuse of words! Author (needlessly) throws in “moreover”, “nevertheless”, and “also” at the beginning of WAY TOO MANY SENTENCES. I started paying so much attention to this and yelling at my Dot and telling it if it said one of those words one more time where it wasn’t needed, that I was going to unplug it.

I made it about 8 hours in and had to stop. I couldn’t power through it. Save your time and read Pandora’s Lab instead. That book was PHENOMENAL.

1 person found this helpful

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A bit too "human interest" for me.

When the science was presented, it was presented well, with a good balance of information for the layperson interested in epidemiology, like myself. It was the biographies of the people involved, how the personnel were recently married, or engaged, were introverts or extroverts, etc, etc, that lost my interest. I was interested in some of the science and history of epidemiology, not particularly in mini-biographies of some epidemiologists.

Also, and this annoyed me the whole chapter, a serial murder, while interesting in another context, is not an "outbreak." Even if it was thought to be an outbreak prior to investigation. I felt that chapter, three, I think, should have been in another book entirely.

Finally, the narration was adequate at best. A friend who I gave a ride to asked if this was an AI voice assistant reading the book, like Alexa or SIri. The sentences had odd breaks e.g. "hundreds... of thousands," the words were often oddly or over enunciated... I could only wish for better in the future.

1 person found this helpful

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Uncomfortable listening

Reader’s voice seemed harsh to me!! Stories could be told in many fewer words. Giving the initials of each organization mentioned was unnecessary! Tedious making it difficult to focus on the conclusions which never seemed to arrive!

1 person found this helpful

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Watching the Detectives Save Some Lives

When my son was in kindergarten, I read him Dian Dincin Buchman, PhD's "Deadly Medical Mysteries: How They Were Solved" (2000). It is a wonderful book of short, true detective stories, 10 to 20 pages each, in easy kids' words. My son loved it so much he took it to school on Book Share Day. One of his favorite stories was how Lyme disease was isolated by two mothers comparing their kids' symptoms in Lyme, Connecticut.

Alexandra Levitt, MD's "Deadly Outbreaks: How Medical Detectives Save Lives Threatened by Killer Pandemics, Exotic Viruses, and Drug-Resistant Parasites" (2013) has the much lengthier and complex story of how Centers for Disease Control scientist Willy Burgdorfer, MD (1925 - 2014) isolated a tick-borne bacteria that's now called Borrelia burgdorferi in his honor. It's an important lesson in thinking outside the box - well, actually, in Burgdorfer's case, thinking inside an entirely different box because his training was in Rickettsial diseases. Burgdorfer intuitively used an approach in culturing the bacterium that a non-Rickettsial trained scientist wouldn't have used, and it worked.

Burgdorfer's work on Lyme disease was long, exacting and necessary, which contrasts with the 1983 work done by epidemiologists Patrick McConnon and Roland Sutter. They were trying to source a malarial outbreak in Cambodian refugee camps that only affected men in their 20's and 30's. The scientists conducted interviews, drew blood, and puzzled endlessly over the cause. A casual conversation with a camp worker solved the mystery months later: the malarial men, who'd developed a drug resistant strain, were gun runners for the Khemer Rouge. They contracted the disease from jungle sources, not at camps. That's an important lesson that while medical research and analysis is important, boots on the ground, taking to people can be at least as important.

"Deadly Outbreaks" is also the history of the CDC's Epidemiologic Intelligence Services (EIS). It's a nifty program for statisticians, doctors, veterinarians, and epidemiologists to learn how to determine what's causing a disease and to track outbreaks. There's a thorough discussion of how applied statistics are used to track diseases. The story of sourcing Legionnaire's disease and locating its reservoir was a fascinating demonstration of statistics in action.

The book did tend to wander down tangents that are particularly hard to follow on an Audible book. And it got repetitive at times, perhaps because each chapter may be meant to stand alone.

The narration - well - parts of it drove me nuts. The narrator's voice was fine, but she mispronounced some biological words. One particular pet peeve: USAMRIID, for United States Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases. The narrator says it as each individual letter. It's commonly pronounced as u-Sam-rid. Grammatically, either way is acceptable - but reading off the acronym letter-by-letter jars the narration.

[If this review helped, please press YES. Thanks!]

11 people found this helpful

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  • JC
  • 05-01-21

Reads like a series of lectures

This was a great book to follow up my other reading about viruses. Levitt and the author Laurie Garrett have a similar styling, which brings the medical and science professionals to life that were behind all the research and hard work within each outbreak. Occasionally I've a sense the author is subtly implying a more conservative undertone politically, which would be my only complaint. Even this is articulated in a way which is thought provoking and doesn't feel "sneaky." An excellent listen with great narration. I recommend.

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  • AstraeaNova
  • 06-14-18

Facinating Bugs

This is a fantastic book, it tells you about all those times people really needed TPTB to know what's wrong and how to put it right to save the rest of us from getting any nasty, fatal, diseases.
I've been fascinated by medical science since I was a child and have read books similar to this one before and I got to say this was well worth the listen. It goes into all the details of how diseases emerge, how they are spread, and how they are either eventually cured of not, which can be a very exciting tale.
I would whole heartedly recommend this book.

3 people found this helpful