Hunting the 1918 Flu: One Scientist's Search for a Killer Virus

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University of Toronto Press, 2003 - Medical - 297 pages
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In 1918, medical science was at a loss to explain the Spanish flu epidemic, which swept the world in three great waves and killed an estimated 20 to 40 million people in just one year, more than the number that died during the four years of World War I. Today, while the Spanish flu has faded in the public's memory, most virologists are convinced that sooner or later a similarly deadly flu virus will return with a vengeance.

Responding to this sustained interest in the Spanish flu, Kirsty Duncan in Hunting the 1918 Flu presents a detailed account of her experiences as she organized a multi-national, multi-discipline scientific expedition to exhume the bodies of a group of Norwegian miners, buried in Svalbard, all of whom died from the Spanish flu virus. Duncan weaves a twofold narrative: first, the story of a large-scale medical project with the objective of uncovering genetic material from the Spanish flu and second, a first-hand account of the turbulent politics that emerged as the group moved towards a goal where the egos were as strong as the stakes were high. Duncan, herself not an epidemiologist but a physical geographer, is very frank about her bruising emotional, financial, and professional experience on the 'dark side of science.' Readers witness how the research team engages in 'entropic' behaviour, despite its presumed dedication to science and the search for the virus, as the compelling story unfolds through the beginning progress and harrowing conclusion of her project (1992-2001).

In her account of pursuing the deadly killer, Kirsty Duncan raises questions not only regarding public health, epidemiology, ethics of science, and the rights of subjects but also about age, gender, and privilege in science. While her search for the virus has shown promising preliminary results, it has also shown the dangers of science itself being subsumed in the rush for personal acclaim.

  

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Contents

A Deadly Killer
3
The Spanish Influenza of 1918
6
An Evolving Team
23
The Quest 19921994
25
Beneath the Crosses 1994May 1996
42
First Permission First Workshop MayAugust 1996
54
Archival Samples? CDC Withdraws August 1996June 1997
65
Ground Penetrating Radar
87
Is It Safe? FebruaryApril 1998
139
Scientific Plan AprilJune 1998
148
High Stakes AprilAugust 1998
159
Public Relations Plan MayJuly 1998
166
Money Wars MayAugust 1998
177
Face to Face 16 August5 September 1998
191
Waiting for Results November 1998October 1999
229
Fighting for Norway Fighting for Canada 1116 November
243

New Members and GPR Preparations JuneOctober 1997
89
Through the Ground Darkly October 1997
102
Wrestling with Demons
111
Live Virus? October 1997January 1998
113
Mill Hill Meeting February 1998
123
Sharing Samples? November 1999November 2000
262
Promises Kept
277
Index
293
Copyright

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About the author (2003)

Kirsty E. Duncan is currently an Adjunct Professor at the University of Toronto where she teaches medical geography. Hunting the 1918 Flu is the product of ten years of intensive research and analysis, and extensive travel and collaboration.

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