Fungal Fright: Sprial by Paul McEuen

I wish I could say exactly how I discovered Spiral by Paul McEuen. I want to say it was a Goodreads review and I’m always looking for new medical thriller authors– particularly ones that can back it up with good sound expertise.

Paul is a professor at Cornell University and has received the Agilent Technologies Europhysics Prize, a Packard Fellowship, and a Presidential Young Investigator Award as listed in his bio. I am just guessing he’s one really smart dude.

This debut medical thriller also won the International Thriller Writer’s Debut Category for 2012. Strong work, Paul– as I like to say.

Spiral begins the first part of the book in the past– specifically a close examination of two war ships in the ocean– of a few men in a raft– and the large gun ship swiftly disposing of them because they want to come aboard.

The reason they aren’t rescued– and actually murdered– is because of the fear that they have been infected with a deadly fungus named Uzumaki.

The early scenes of the novel– from the terror realized as the infection manifests, to the other ship trying to “quarantine” the fungus in the middle of the ocean until one stray bird lands on the infected vessel . . . and then takes off. . . 

I never thought a bird landing on a ship would lead to heart palpitations– seriously.

Fast forward and the young military fungal specialist is now a well-acclaimed university professor specializing in fungus and one of the few who know about Uzumaki– and now others want the fungus born again for nefarious reasons.

What I really liked about this novel was it reminded me of the early Robin Cook books. Take a medical concept and take it to the worst case scenario. Or take something theoretical, somewhat expiramental and think about the way it can run amok on humanity. I think that’s what makes a medical thriller— well– thrilling!

I liked learning about fungi and the tiny robots called microcrawlers (and how deadly they can be!) In fact, I wanted to look up some of these concepts to see how “true to life” they really were. I also liked the examination of how prevalent antibiotic usage can be detrimental.

I would have enjoyed more of the fungus unleashed on humanity. Instead, there were only a few infected people. The story centered more on the family and how the secret of the fungus was kept hidden.

Overall, a good read for medical thriller fans. I’ll be excited to read this author’s future works.   

Fungal Fright: Killer Spores

In preparation for Thursday’s post– I did a quick Google University search for “deadly fungus” and up came Cryptococcus– again. I first blogged about this fungus here.

The interesting thing about fungal infections is that they are like the unwanted orphans of pathogens. Their infections can take a while to manifest and be equally as difficult to treat– often requiring months of anti-fungal therapy.

I first blogged about Cryptococcus two years ago but have you even heard of it? The reason bacteria and viral infections get much more press is that they tend to spread and manifest much more quickly– thereby meeting our need for instant gratification. We’ll know, likely within a few weeks, whether you’re going to live or die.

Not so much with a fungal infection.

A person gets infected by cryptococcus by directly inhaling the spores. There are two species that are responsible for MOST human infections. C. neoformans, found in the soil, generally infects people with weakened immune systems like those with the HIV virus. The other, C. gattii, affects more healthy populations.

What’s interesting is that these fungus spores are continuing to spread along the western sea board. Compared to when I first wrote about this infection, the death rate has risen to about 33% from 25%. What’s more interesting is that the same fungal infection for Canadians only has a death rate of about 10%.

It makes me wonder if the difference in geography plays into the host, the fungus, and/or the ability to fight the infection. All good plot points for a medical thriller.

Treatment is antifungal medications for many months but if these prove inneffective then surgery may be required.

What about you? Have you heard of this deadly spore?

You can check out the following links if you want to read more about Cryptococcus and these links are also where I got the information for this post.

http://www.realclearscience.com/articles/2013/05/28/cryptococcus_spread_of_a_deadly_fungus_106543.html

http://www.cdc.gov/fungal/cryptococcosis-gattii/

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20570552

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2669189/