This year’s pandemic has frequently been dubbed a “black swan” event; a cataclysm so unfathomable that no one could have predicted it. Except that one man did. His name is Michael T. Osterholm and he penned Deadliest Enemy: Our War Against Killer Germs long before the outbreak of COVID-19 in Wuhan.
Osterholm, a world-leading epidemiologist and professor of infectious diseases, enlisted the help of award-winning documentary filmmaker and bestselling author Mark Olshaker to complete the first edition of the book in 2017. With the world’s past coronavirus epidemics – SARS, H1N1 influenza and MERS – fresh in mind, the authors predicted the outbreak of a new coronavirus; more deadly and devastating than any we have seen before, which could wreak havoc on the global economy. The 2020 edition of Deadliest Enemy has a new preface on COVID-19, but the authors’ older predictions are so relevant today you would think the whole thing was written in post-coronavirus lockdown.
Osterholm earned his stripes as the medical equivalent of a disease “detective” during the first outbreaks in America of HIV/AIDS. Anecdotes from this experience offer insight into the tactics now being employed to trace and treat COVID-19. He also warns those putting all their stock into a vaccine; doctors in the 1990s thought they would find a vaccine within months for AIDS, yet we are still without one.
Far from being a clinical recap of case studies, the book (and likely Olshaker’s writing) turns Osterholm’s memories into stories full of colour and insight. The authors dip in and out of the past to skilfully connect medical events with potentially devastating future economic impacts. An eye-opening read that illuminates the harsh reality of how unprepared society is to cope with infectious diseases.