About this book
Describing more than two centuries of epidemic meningitis, In the Blink of an Eye introduces a deadly and frightening bacterial infection of the brain—one that afflicts healthy children and young adults in dramatic fashion, often changing or taking lives in just hours or days. Meningococcal meningitis is the culprit—causing sporadic cases as well as explosive, unpredictable outbreaks of disease throughout the world—leading to the deaths of dozens to hundreds of thousands every year. Beginning with the case of a healthy teenage boy who rapidly succumbs to the disease, the book traces meningitis through its various social contexts. From the acceptance of the germ theory of disease and the birth of the sister sciences of microbiology and immunology in the nineteenth century to the modern molecular era, the story traverses more than 200 years of medical history. It leads us through the early descriptions of the disease, its impact on military forces, large outbreaks of meningitis in Africa and elsewhere, and the evolution of approaches to its treatment, control, and prevention. In so doing, we witness the development of modern medical research and education, the discovery of antibiotics, the rapid emergence of drug-resistant bacteria, the invention of a novel class of vaccines, and learn the inner workings of disease processes and the human immune system. The story of meningococcal meningitis—winding through the evolution of infectious diseases, the great European capitals of nineteenth century science, the Rockefeller Institute, the dye industry, Nazi Germany, military medicine, the Vietnam era, and prospects for an end to epidemic disease—parallels the rise of modern medical science.