As strains of the cold and flu take hold this winter, it seems there is no way to take a vacation from germs -- especially for passengers on cruise ships. According to the New York Times, at least 900 people on board cruises have recently become violently ill with vomiting and diarrhea caused by a virus. The Norwalk virus is the suspected culprit on four ships in the last two months.
The Norwalk virus is one of several headline-making germs cataloged by Pulitzer Prize-winning science writer and Johns Hopkins University writing professor Wayne Biddle in A Field Guide to Germs (Anchor Books, June 2002, second edition.) In the style of the old-fashioned field guides he remembers from his scouting days, Biddle aims to arm readers with facts to debunk myths. For example, Biddle says, many common germs are usually spread by person-to- person contact and not by touching contaminated surfaces.
Updated with new entries and medical information, the latest edition of A Field Guide to Germs includes microbes such as smallpox and anthrax that have become a part of everyday discourse in post-Sept. 11 America. While news stories about possible bioterror attacks may frighten the public, Biddle's Field Guide is intended to be a voice of reason. His alphabetical list is presented "not with the quack promise of self-diagnosis, but with the absolute certainty that a little knowledge is always better than zip," Biddle says.
"There are many differing opinions from the scientific community and many of the theories are alarmist," Biddle says. "My book is offered in the spirit of first aid, as a bulwark against phobia."
Besides smallpox and anthrax, Biddle's research makes him a good source of user-friendly information about other recent microscopic headline-makers, such as the cases of tuberculosis in New York City and the mini-outbreak of the plague in New Mexico. He is also well-versed in seasonal illnesses like the common cold and the flu. To speak with Wayne Biddle, contact Amy Cowles at (410) 516-7160.
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