Sydney: NewSouth Books; 2011.
You would be forgiven for thinking that a book about ‘bugs’ is boring. From his basic training in infectious diseases at St Vincent’s Hospital in Melbourne, through life in the Northern Territory coordinating sexually-transmitted disease programs, to working as a staff specialist in Canberra, Frank Bowden’s colourful memoir is anything but boring.
If you’ve ever wondered what happened to SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) or asked yourself why smallpox is the only disease to be eradicated by vaccination, this is the book for you. Swine flu, meningitis, MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus ), necrotising fasciitis and donovanosis are but a few diseases you will encounter. Anecdotal stories bring this fascinating, terrifying and sometimes just plain gross topic to life.
It is hard not to laugh out loud in parts, particularly when Professor Bowden describes the time he saw his first case of ‘saxophone penis’. However, it is not all fun and games. The chapter ‘Life during wartime’ is more sombre as he recounts life on the wards in the 1980s during the HIV epidemic. Or the time he was called to the morgue to a schoolboy who went to bed feeling unwell only to be found dead in the morning from overwhelming meningococcal sepsis.
The statistics on syphilis, gonorrhoea and chlamydia in Aboriginal women will shock you. Frank Bowden shares his sometimes controversial views on infection control and the ‘triumphs and failings’ of the health system in these communities.
Despite it being a page turner, I did feel some points were laboured – the author dedicates a whole chapter to his personal experience of a needlestick incident during the initial years of HIV. I also skimmed the chapter on hand hygiene in hospitals despite its interesting historical references to puerperal sepsis.
This easy-to-read, witty account of life in a world of germs, complete with a glossary and index, has wide appeal. If you are a clinician, public health enthusiast or just wanting to know the facts behind the headlines, this book is as entertaining as it is informative and is perfect for a Sunday afternoon read.