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Views & Reviews Review of the Week

A brief history of shroud waving through the centuries

BMJ 2009; 338 doi: (Published 30 June 2009) Cite this as: BMJ 2009;338:b2610
  1. Tom Jefferson, Cochrane Acute Respiratory Infections Group
  1. jefferson.tom{at}

    A journey through the history of epidemics and society’s often misplaced fears impresses Tom Jefferson

    When I was invited to review Dread I had been trying to make sense of what was going on in the world of the so called Mexican influenza. Why and how had a relatively benign disease such as influenza been turned into a fund raising, raging monster at our door? Why had poorly performing vaccines and flopped antiflu drugs been turned into money spinners and career builders by governments?

    I got the answers reading Philip Alcabes’ book. Dread is a well written, cogent narrative, discussing (not necessarily in this order) the Black Death, sweating sickness, autism, plague, cholera, severe acute respiratory syndrome, Spanish influenza, AIDS, obesity, avian influenza, and the 1976 swine flu pandemic fiasco (oh yes, there has been another swine flu thing: remember President Ford getting vaccinated?). The Mexican swine flu appeared …

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