Thursday, June 28, 2007

Deadly Feasts: The "Prion" Controvery and the Public's Health

Author: Richard Rhodes

First line: Dark night in the mountains and no drums beating.

Why you should read this book: From the New Guinea Highlands in the 1950s to the US Department of Agriculture in the 1990s, this book tracks the evolving understanding of Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathy, a group of diseases including kuru, mad cow, and Creutzfeldt-Jakob. While the underlying cause of such diseases is still under debate, the fact that TSE is always fatal is not, and the possibility that TSE still exists in the food supply, despite consumer fear and half-hearted government regulation, seems high, as does the near-certainty that the disease's incubation period suggests that we may see amplified numbers of deaths from infected food decades hence. This beautifully written narrative tells the story of the determined scientists who labored for half a century to understand TSE's epidemiology, and it reads like a thrilling medical mystery, albeit one whose last twenty pages have yet to be written.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You trust that USDA regulations are sufficient to protect consumers, and you're not giving up beef under any circumstance anyway.

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