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Reading ‘Spillover’ in Bo

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The book: Spillover, by David Quammen

The place: Bo, Sierra Leone

There is an alternative universe in which I didn’t quit all sciences at the age of 15, but instead went on to get a degree in medicine or epidemiology or immunology and am now happily working for the Centre for Disease Control or similar. I don’t think I’d necessarily be happier in that particular universe, but I do have the occasional pang of envy for people whose work is tough and challenging and dangerous, but also deals with the sort of absolutes that exist in science and medicine.

This book is excellent. Like Shake Hands with the Devil (I have been reading an unusual-for-me amount of non-fiction lately) I went into it with more of a sense of obligation than a real desire to read it, but Quammen has the gift of making science accessible, and has the added bonus of being often hilarious; laugh-out-loud humour isn’t something one expects from a book about disease, but Spillover, surprisingly, delivers. It’s an examination of zoonoses – that is, diseases that cross over from animals to humans, of which Ebola is one, but also AIDS, and Lyme Disease, and any number of obscure but terrifying outbreaks that have occurred in the last century or two (Nipah? Hendra? Marburg virus? Yeah, me neither).

I don’t think I’ve ever been as conscious of my temperature as I have been over the past week in Sierra Leone – and to a lesser extent in Nigeria over the past nine months. They’ve largely stopped now in Nigeria, but in Sierra Leone you are still heat-checked on entering almost any public building, and between Freetown and Bo (about a three and a half hour drive) there are multiple Ebola checkpoints along the road, where friendly soldiers stick thermometers through the car windows and check that you are (probably) not about to a) die, or b) more worryingly, take Ebola back to somewhere it’s been wiped out. As of earlier this month, Sierra Leone was down to two cases of Ebola and had gone eight days without a new case; however there was a recent setback with a couple of people escaping from isolation facilities and becoming an infection risk. Still, it’s definitely on the decline, and should hopefully join Liberia as Ebola-free over the next few months (which is more than can be said for Guinea).


On the road to Bo


Written by Jess

May 28, 2015 at 8:17 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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