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Good Germs, Bad Germs: Health and Survival in a Bacterial World
Jessica Snyder Sachs
Hill and Wang, 2007
304 pp., $25.00
by Matthew Sleeth
When my son Clark was little, he was prone to upper respiratory infections. I used to call him over, pull out my handkerchief, and tell him to blow. Now and then, I commented, "Wow, you're leaking a lot of brain lubricant." The poor guy. Years later, he told me he had taken me at my word. As a result, he'd gone around sniffing to keep his brain from losing all its lubricant. I wonder what would have become of him if I'd told the truth about the teeming masses of bacteria in his runny nose.
Clark, now age 19, has long ago forgiven, if not forgotten, my doctor humor. He was recently home on his college break when I received for review Jessica Snyder Sachs' Good Germs, Bad Germs: Health and Survival in a Bacterial World. Before I get to the book, I'll digress a bit more. Over Clark's school break, he asked me to go see the movie I Am Legend, starring Will Smith. As it turns out, Clark's movie choice was rather providential. Next fall my son will start medical school. I'm not sure his generation of doctors has more to learn from Good Germs, Bad Germs or I Am Legend.
The film begins with a scene from a TV newsroom. Karen at the health desk is interviewing Dr. Alice Krippen about her medical invention. "Give it to me in a nutshell," Karen prompts. "The premise is quite simple," Dr. Krippen begins. "Take something that is designed by nature and reprogram it to make it work for the body rather than against it." We learn that Dr. Krippen's team has done clinical trials on 10,009 patients using a genetically altered measles virus. In follow-ups, all are cancer free. The doctor is asked if she has found the cure for cancer. "Yes. Yes. Yes, we have," she says—as the scene shifts to a post-apocalyptic world a few years later.
Will Smith, in the role of virologist Robert Neville, is the last human inhabitant of Manhattan Island, except for a bunch of ghoulish, bloodthirsty cancer-vaccine "survivors." It seems the cancer cure has left everybody dead—or "undead"—except ...