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Overall Summary

The book, The Demon in the Freezer, is about bioweapons and epidemic diseases. It focuses on smallpox, which was used as a bioweapon in 2001. Soon after that attack took place, researchers at USAMRIID were worried that the envelopes might contain smallpox instead of anthrax.

Preston then shifts his focus to the eradication of smallpox, an effort that consumed scientists and fieldworkers around the globe. Although a series of deadly smallpox cases broke out in Germany in the early 1970s, it was contained and driven from its possible strongholds in Asia under D.A. Henderson’s guidance. The last naturally occurring case arose in 1977, but it is impossible to know if other countries have clandestine samples of smallpox because they are stored only at two facilities: one lab freezer facility in the United States and another one in Russia.

There has been a lot of controversy over whether or not to destroy the stocks of smallpox. The Russians were developing bioweapons that could be delivered by missiles, and researchers wanted to know if they should perform new research on smallpox in order to protect people from any future attacks. D.A. Henderson believed that destroying all existing stocks would send a message of cooperation and caution, while Peter Jahrling supported doing more research because he thought it was important for scientists to understand how the disease worked so they could develop vaccines against it. With some help from Lisa Hensley, Jahrling succeeded in infecting lab monkeys with smallpox—even though strains of “smallpox” are species-specific and only target humans.

The author of The Demon in the Freezer explains that the anthrax attack of 2001 did not involve smallpox, but he also points out that it could have. He believes that a new form of destruction is possible and it could break through previously effective methods for preventing infection. Whether or not another smallpox crisis will occur depends on human nature, as there are no scientific solutions to prevent this from happening.

Chapter 1: Something in the Air

The author’s account of the anthrax attack begins with a description of Robert Stevens, who worked as a photo retoucher for The National Enquirer. He was struck by an illness that progressed rapidly through his body and ended his life. Sherif Zaki performed the autopsy on Stevens and determined that he had died from exposure to anthrax spores. As Zaki was arriving at these conclusions, an investigation into Stevens’s movements yielded troubling news: there were traces of anthrax in the mail system at American Media (the company where Stevens worked just before he died).

An anthrax letter was sent to the Senate Majority Leader’s office in October of 2001. Similar letters were also sent to media outlets including CBS, NBC, and ABC. The letters contained an ominous powder that federal agents wanted to test. They took the samples to USAMRIID (United States Army Medical Research Institute of Infections Diseases), where a researcher named John Ezzell analyzed them. He decided not to call it a weapon but instead characterized it as “energetic” and “professional.”

Jarhling was worried about the anthrax itself, but he was also concerned that it could have been laced with smallpox, which had been eradicated by 2001. Jahrling and his colleagues were in the process of developing new remedies for smallpox if there were ever an outbreak. Jarhling assigned one of his colleagues to use a microscope to examine the anthrax under high-powered magnification to see if any traces of smallpox remained in it.

Free Book Summary, by Chris Anderson

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