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Infectious: Pathogens and How we fight them by John S Tregoning

The stories of pandemics begin earlier than the point when we recognise that a pandemic is upon us. Just when the world was opening up after the devastating impact of the COVID-19, Omicron made its presence felt. It is at this time that Infectious: Pathogens and How we fight them by John S Tregoning (Simon & Schuster India) seems particularly relevant. 

The jury is still out on the direction that nations must move towards keeping recent developments and multiple mutations of the virus in mind. Yet, it is always timely to know more about pathogens and their impact on our lives. What we really need is a book that demystifies research on infectious diseases, so that one can take informed decisions. Tregoning presents insights from twenty-five years of experience as a researcher, working at painting a picture of how human ingenuity has led to our survival. 

The book goes back a hundred years to tell the story of a Great war- the human war on bugs. Microscopic as they are, these little creatures have created havoc across mighty nations. And yet, science has progressed in leaps and bounds to control the infectious spread of these diseases. However, in the midst of the chaos and the conspiracy theories that exist, perhaps the story of silent fighters and researchers who are creating huge advances in vaccination and infection control, is lost somewhere in the noise. ‘Infectious’ makes these voices heard.

We often consider scientific research to be incomprehensible and difficult to understand. Let this book break that myth for you. John S Tregoning  is particularly skilled at presenting a simple and yet comprehensive view of scientific research and development in this field. He also brings in the historical perspective and crafts an ingenious story of this battle. I enjoyed reading about the genesis of this ‘war’ on infectious diseases and many other innovations and developments in the medicine and health. 

The short crisp chapters make for smooth reading. Each chapter starts with a snippet of news or information about Covid 19, giving us a sense of the sheer havoc the pandemic has wrecked on the world. The ensuing quote gives a fun and intelligent spin to what’s to come, setting the tone for the chapter.

The very first chapter starts with the beginnings of life on earth, at that crucial moment in time when pathogens made their presence felt on our planet. It covers the moment in time when pathogens and humans began a story together. This is one that still continues, one with many plot twists and turns, of which the Covid-19 pandemic is the latest one. The last chapter is predictive and anticipates the direction of this relationship. And the book covers everything in between! 

Infectious will be interesting reading, almost like a story. The reader can’t miss the touch of subtle humour that makes its way gently through the book. It will reveal and clarify minute terms that are relevant for this conversation around pandemics. For example, I must admit that even the obvious difference between bugs and pathogens was something I didn’t really consider until I read the book! 

The diagrams and illustrations spread across further spice up these lessons on immunology, biology, pathology, genetics, virology and so on. The section on diagnostics is also interesting, especially in the context of the current pandemic where mutations constantly beat the tests. 

The second part of the book talks about prevention and control. Right from historical references to the Black Death to current examples from the pandemic, the chapter takes a critical look at the preventive measures that were taken to control the spread of Covid-19. 

For me, the most insightful chapter was clearly the one on vaccines. The brief history on vaccines presented in the book does paint a nuanced picture of the challenges and the innovations of this crucial field. Spiced with stories about the early pioneers of vaccination, it makes for informative reading. The informed arguments about various aspects in vaccinology, the most crucial one being the acceleration of vaccine development, is also something relevant today. 

Whether you are a novice or an expert, here is a book that offers value, especially so in context of these dark years that are upon the world. Pathogens are not going anywhere. Might as well amp up our defences. And while the scientific community does its bit, for the rest of us information is power! Infectious: Pathogens and How we fight them by John S Tregoning is as timely as it can get, and as timeless as it can be! 

Dhanishta Shah

Dhanishta is a Counselling Psychologist and a freelance writer. She is the Founder of Bookedforlife.