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Asleep    by Molly Caldwell Crosby order for
by Molly Caldwell Crosby
Order:  USA  Can
Berkley, 2010 (2010)
Hardcover, e-Book
* *   Reviewed by Bob Walch

The focus of this fascinating work of non-fiction is a forgotten epidemic that remains one of medicine's greatest mysteries. In 1920 sleeping sickness (encephalitis lethargica) arrived in New York City, carried by a traveler from London who was unknowingly suffering from the disease. Since it sometimes took a long time for the symptoms to appear, this was a difficult disease to deal with.

The disease attacking the part of the brain that controls sleep, sleeping sickness victims would either fall asleep for weeks or months on end, or their eyes would stay open and they would literally die from lack of sleep.

Asleep follows a group of neurologists through hospitals and insane asylums, as they try to solve the worldwide epidemic and treat patients who suffered from sleeping sickness.

Overshadowed by the Spanish flu pandemic that accompanied this epidemic during the period, in 1927 sleeping sickness disappeared as quickly as it appeared. To this day, doctors do not know whether encephalitis lethargica is caused by a virus, bacteria or the body's own immune response.

The quest to nail down the cause continues to this very day in order to be ready if the mysterious disease ever again becomes a major problem. You don't need to be a member of the medical profession to enjoy this remarkable narrative which is based on case studies and interviews with family members. It's a medical, real-life thriller with implications for today's society, especially in the event of a major flu pandemic.

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