Tag Archives: Spanish flu

On death and glaciers

IN September 2013, I came home from the Italian Alps and asked my husband if he thought that, as a science journalist, I’d be covering the science of the First World War for the next four years. I had just attended what was surely the last funeral for unknown soldiers fallen in that war. There were two of them, and they lost their lives in a little-known episode of the conflict called the White War, in which Italians and Austro-Hungarians struggled for control of those mountains at altitudes exceeding 3,000 metres. Global warming had since shrunk the glacier in which they had been entombed, in a crevasse, and their remains had melted out the previous year…

 

This blog first appeared in Frontiers on 1 June 2017. To continue reading, click here.

 

 

Who names diseases?

REMEMBER the Naples Soldier, the vicious flu pandemic that swept the globe almost 100 years ago, infecting one in three people and killing up to 50 million? You probably don’t, but you might remember the Spanish flu, the name by which that pandemic is better known. ‘Naples Soldier’ was what the Spanish called it, after a catchy tune that was being played in local music halls at the time. They knew the origins of the disaster lay beyond their borders and, understandably, refused to take the blame…

 

This essay first appeared in Aeon on 23 May 2017. To continue reading, click here.

“I’ve always thought I’d be good at naming diseases,” muses Dan Piepenbring in The Paris Review (24 May 2017). “The problem with most disease names is that they have all these scary words in them: flu, disorder, virus. That’s bad for business. If I were in charge, I’d name them after deodorants (Aqua Reef, Cool Burst, Sport) or Yankee Candles (Bahama Breeze, Vanilla Cupcake, Clean Cotton). But get this: It’s not just one person naming all the world’s diseases. It’s a whole committee of international bureaucracies, which explains why so many of our world’s most dangerous illnesses have such lousy titles.” Read Dan here:

I Can Name Your Disease, and Other News

Monuments to catastrophe

THE history of humanity is punctuated with purges. Large numbers of people have died in short periods of time as a result of wars, disease and natural disasters. Once these have passed, it falls to the survivors to count the dead. This is never easy, but it is harder for some kinds of disaster than for others. It may be hardest of all for a pandemic, as Ole Benedictow acknowledged in his 2005 article, ‘The Black Death: The Greatest Catastrophe Ever’…

This article first appeared in History Today on 23 March 2017. To continue reading, click here.

 

 

 

 

Spheres of influenza

the-economist-logoWHEN it comes to infectious diseases, Ebola and Zika have hogged the headlines of late. But the rise of exotic pathogens does not make more familiar ones less dangerous. Epidemiologists are therefore keeping a close eye on two versions of influenza, known as H5N1 and H7N9 (the “H” and the “N” refer to proteins in the viral coat, and the numbers to particular versions of those proteins). Either of these, they fear, might become pandemic…

This article first appeared in The Economist on 15 November 2016. To continue reading, click here.

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