Deadly Feasts: Tracking the Secrets of a Terrifying New Plague
|Publisher:||Simon & Schuster|
It lurks in the meat we eat. Undetectable, it incubates for years. It kills by eating holes in people’s brains, so that they stagger and collapse and lose their minds. It’s one hundred percent fatal. And it’s already abroad in America.
Deadly Feasts reads like a Michael Crichton thriller—but it’s documented fact, bringing sober early warning of a new threat to our very lives that every one of us needs to heed. In this brilliant and gripping medical detective story, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Richard Rhodes follows the daring explorations of maverick scientists as they track the emergence of the deadly “stealth” maladies known as prion diseases—strange new disease agents unlike any others known on earth. Mad cow disease is one. Besides hundreds of thousands of cattle, young people in Britain and France have already died from it—died from eating beef.
Beginning with a cannibal feast in New Guinea only a few decades ago that killed everyone who partook, Rhodes shows this mysterious group of human and animal diseases spreading gradually throughout the world, infecting and killing laboratory animals; patients in surgery; herds of sheep, cattle, mink, deer and elk; children treated with human growth hormone; and now, ominously, healthy young people in Britain and on the Continent. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration announcement in early 1997 of drastic measures to prevent an outbreak of mad cow disease in the United States confirmed what Rhodes reveals and explores in detail: that Americans who eat meat are almost certainly already at risk.
The British epidemic of bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or “mad cow” disease, is only one in a series of mysterious and often fatal afflictions that have baffled scientists for more than 40 years. Deadly Feasts is a compelling account of decades of research into a family of diseases ranging from kuru in primitive human tribes to scrapie in sheep. Richard Rhodes traces the attempts of scientists to understand these strange diseases, which are now known to be transmitted by ingesting the brain or nervous tissue of infected creatures, even though the pathogen itself is an enigma that seems to be neither bacterial nor viral. Deadly Feasts is packed with historical, anthropological, and epidemiological detail, and is graphic and occasionally even alarming in its speculations.