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Review of Seth Mnookin's 'The Panic Virus: A True Story of Medicine, Science, and Fear'

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‘The Panic Virus: A True Story of Medicine, Science, and Fear’ by Seth Mnookin, published in January 2011. Seth Mnookin is an American writer, journalist, and media reporter for Undark Magazine’s podcast and contributing editor at Vanity Fair. Mnookin is the author of three books with a non-fiction genre, and one of these books is The Panic Virus. The book holds 24 chapters that talk about different ideas, yet they are all linked to vaccines and media somehow. Mnookin unravels the public’s story about the claim of a relationship between vaccines and autism by starting with a clinical description of a vaccine-preventable infection. Afterward, he provides a history of a vaccine used in the U.S., which was on the Laceks family. Moreover, the book focuses on the opinions of parents and who presented the information. Mnookin wrote this book to educate people that while such myths are being popularized and disseminate, vaccination rates have driven to outbreaks of deadly illnesses like Hib, measles, and whooping cough. The book contains a variety of medical issues. This report will consist of two medical problems: smallpox and The Polio Vaccine.

In the past, people feared the vaccines to the point where they neglect it, so knowing and understanding the vaccine and what it protects us from is essential for people to understand the vaccine’s importance. The most consequential and the first issue is smallpox (Thèves, 2014) or Variola vera, a term from the Latin for ‘spotted pimple’. Smallpox affected people since 1350 B.C. was the first recorded smallpox epidemic. It was the thought to date back to the Egyptian Empire, where smallpox’s telltale scars marked the mummified face of Rames V (Ann, 2016). Generation changed or ended rapidly because of smallpox’s introduction like the Aztec and Incan kingdoms and the Habsburg line of succession to destroying over a third of Washington’s army in 1776. However, there were some survivors, but they were still suffering from all cases of blindness. Variola Virus was contagious, and it caused lacerating headaches, anxiety, and crippling nausea. Within 2 to 3 days after getting infected, small rashes begin to appear on the body, which leads to hemorrhaging that causes bleeding from ears, eyes, nose, and gums. Then they transform to pimples that over a while the vesicles begin to fill with oozing pus till it gets stretched enough to burst. Researches found that smallpox produced a protein that blocks a wide range of human interferons, which leads to dying sometime. By 1717, Mary Wortley discovered a prevention process called ingrafting; however, inoculation did not stop smallpox completely; it sought to combat.

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Poliomyelitis, or for short polio, is an infectious, contagious disease that affects the central nervous system. Resulting in weakness mostly in the legs, but it might involve the muscles of the head, neck, and diaphragm. It is generally spread from one person to another by a fecal-oral route. There are no symptoms in around 70 percent of infected people; however, another 25 percent have minor symptoms such as sore throat, headache, fever, and neck stiffness. As usual, it is hard to conduct that they are the polio symptoms (Johnson, 2018). People started to notice the disease when it attacks motor neurons in the spinal cord and brain, which results in paralysis. In 1916, the first outbreak of polio struck New York when people were unaware of the disease, so it was often called a mysterious and frightening childhood illness. This caused complete chaos and frightening throughout the population as people, even scientists, could not explain what was happening, its cause, and how to stop it; therefore, the March of Dimes campaign was formed. By 1954, the first vaccine was made by a man named Salk, who won the nation in 1955 (Shampo,1998). He took several different strains of the virus and inactivated them, so no cells would be infected to inject them into the people. Nevertheless, the immune system could still see them and develop IgG antibodies against them. The administration began with Eisenhower’s help to generate more of the vaccine; however, the program was shut down due to its failure to prevent polio. The scenario created mass mistrust in the administration. Cutter, a laboratory that developed the vaccine, was sued by many families as many children got polio shortly after getting vaccinations. In a supreme court case known as Gottsdanker vs. Cutter, Cutter was found responsible. The situation demonstrated the importance of educating the public to stop mass hysteria that could worsen the issue.

In conclusion, the book talks about different phases of vaccinations and their histories. Moreover, it does not only present information about the disease, but it also presents people’s perception. It describes how people act toward the disease and the vaccine by drawing on interviewing with parents, public-health advocates, scientists, and anti-vaccine activities. People’s minds can be played and programmed to believe what others want them to believe. Mnookin describes how a small talk in the media could cause a big problem and panic to society. The media’s willingness to tell a ‘fair’ story by giving equal weight to real scientific evidence and unproven theories gave substance to speculation and generated unjustified uncertainty and fear in the minds of those who were searching for knowledge (Wiznitzer, 2011).

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Review of Seth Mnookin’s ‘The Panic Virus: A True Story of Medicine, Science, and Fear’. (2022, September 01). Edubirdie. Retrieved December 6, 2022, from
“Review of Seth Mnookin’s ‘The Panic Virus: A True Story of Medicine, Science, and Fear’.” Edubirdie, 01 Sept. 2022,
Review of Seth Mnookin’s ‘The Panic Virus: A True Story of Medicine, Science, and Fear’. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 6 Dec. 2022].
Review of Seth Mnookin’s ‘The Panic Virus: A True Story of Medicine, Science, and Fear’ [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Sept 01 [cited 2022 Dec 6]. Available from:
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