On David Quammen's "Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic": Viruses of the Future

So on this post-Halloween day I’m reading David Quammen’s just-published book of nonfiction, Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic, which is gripping from the get-go. He starts by describing the Hendra virus in Australia, one I had never heard of, with horses dying horrible deaths, and disease specialists rushing in once humans also begin to die. Quammen is one of our best nonfiction writers, and a good person to boot. I’ve met him a couple times, and he’s a sober, thoughtful nonfiction writer, quite a contrast from the usual memoirist. Much of what he says about viruses is in the background of my novel The Bird Saviors, which features a mysterious virus outbreak that may or may not be of avian origin. I’ve read some excellent books on viruses, like Richard Preston’s The Hot Zone and Laurie Garrett’s The Coming Plague, and I find them fascinating. But here’s the kicker: Climate change will likely unleash some of these viruses from their hidden locales. As Quammen puts it, “Ecological disturbance causes diseases to emerge. Shake a tree, and things fall out” (23). With Hurricane Sandy being just the latest example of how climate change can affect the world, we should pay attention to what Quammen has to say.

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