Writing popular science books even for the most eminent of scientists is no easy task, since scientific facts have to be put forth as to be easily comprehensible to the layman who has little or no knowledge of science. The book under review is written by the recipient of Dr B.C. Deb Award for popularisation of science and ISWA'snational award for science popularisation and who has tried to present scientific facts in a simple and easily comprehensible style. She has been able to do so as she is not new to writing as she has other popular science books to her credit besides innumerable articles on popular science subjects published in newspapers and journals.
The miraculous power of vaccines to fight a multitude of epidemics is undoubtedly one of the greatest success stories of medicine. Deadly microbes were all-powerful at one time. These invisible culprits, the causative agents of many a frightful and infectious disease, went unchecked in their vicious design to conquer the human body as they did not face a counter challenge by the host strong enough to evade their onslaught. As a result, millions of susceptible hosts perished during the fearful epidemics of diseases like plague, smallpox and cholera while physicians of yesteryears wrestled to control them, largely very unsuccessfully. Conquest of a plethora of deadly diseases was and has been rather a perilous endeavour. Daring persons like Edward Jenner (who discovered the vaccine for smallpox), Louis Pasteur (who proved that if a disease causing microbe was effectively weakened, then it could act as a dummy for the body'sdefence machinery to counter that problematic bug), Robert Koch, Jonas E. Salk and others who paved the way for designing safe and effective vaccines against fatal, debilitating diseases.
The author strikes a very encouraging note when she says that new vaccines are being designed by several teams of dedicated vaccine manufacturers and researchers all over the world. She however sounds a word of caution to say that when new vaccines are designed, it is very important to obtain detailed knowledge on the type of immune responses that are triggered by an infection. Mankind'saim should be to design a vaccine that elicits an appropriate immune response in the host while conferring long-lasting immunity against the particular disease-causing bug.
It is on reading this book that I discovered that Alexander (356-323 BC) died young, just as the age of 32 when he succumbed to the malaria caused by a tiny organism or protozoan bug called Plasmodium. Ironically it was the battle against this wily blood parasite that Alexander lost and which led to the crumbling of his vast empire and its glory. More such information is provided in addition to that on the latest developments in vaccines.
Notwithstanding the advances made in designing new vaccines and their strategies, several diseases such as AIDS still stand out as tough adversaries to be tackled. Worse still has been the recent outbreak of the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), which spread like wild fire due to air travel. The killer infection spread suddenly in parts of China in March 2003, extending its tentacles to several other countries.
It is a grim reminder of the fact that though we have conquered many bugs, there are still many new bugs that are causing fearful diseases against which no preventive or curative methods are known yet and which can create havoc crossing all physical and man-made boundaries. This is a book worth reading if only to enlighten ourselves on the microbes that can attack us and the vaccines available to counter them.
(National Book Trust, India, A-5 Green Park, New Delhi-110 016.)