The sofa starts to look mighty good.

When you're ailing, it's a good place to be. All you want to do is curl up there with your blankie and watch bad TV while you sniffle and moan, maybe get a little pampering, and wonder who to blame for giving you this snotty nose and shaky chills. Somebody's at fault or, as you'll see in "Patient Zero" by Lydia Kang, MD & Nate Pedersen, it might be a something.

For as long as there have been humans, there have been diseases and a reach to explain how the latter affects the former. Ancient Greeks and Romans looked toward the stars and planets for an reason for illness, and eighteenth century scientists had their guesses but it wasn't until the mid-1800s that we really started to understand why we get sick.

Nate Pedersen
Nate Pedersen
Lydia Kang, MD
Lydia Kang, MD

Part of the reason for delay is that nobody realized that disease could come from dinner and the plants and meat used to make it. It wasn't known that merely being near an animal could lead to illness, never mind if the animal or something biting it bit you. Smelly air was often blamed for illness, but few suspected breath. Early doctors and scientists knew that another human could make you seriously sick, but they were way off in the means of transmission.

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And the whole idea that water could get befouled underground? Who'd believe that?

We have to remember, as the authors remind readers, that "we tend to think that we're at the top of the food chain, but that's not entirely accurate; we are consumed – or things are attempting to consume us – constantly." Some of those things happen to be germs, bacteria, viruses, protozoa, and fungi that can make us crawl for the sofa – or even kill us.

The good news, say the authors, is that we mask, quarantine, we reach for medicines, doctors, vaccines, and sofas. We learn from the last epidemic or outbreak what to do to avoid or prepare for the next one.

Because there will always be a next one...

Let's face it: even for the healthiest among us, the last almost-two years have been a challenge. "Patient Zero" shows that we have a long history of battling things that make us sick, and it shows us what our next best weapons might be.

And yet, as authors Lydia Kang, MD & Nate Pedersen remind readers through their stories, diseases are wily things and trying to stay one step ahead of them is like a game of hide-and-seek with deadly stakes. There are heroes inside the pages of this book, and a lot of misguided ideas that might make you snicker; there's death here, too; some stomach-churning tales, and a few triumphs. And it's all told in a refreshingly accessible, plain-spoken way that won't make you feel worse.

If you're looking for a unique kind of health book that's fun to read but also solidly informative, this is it. Take two aspirin and "Patient Zero," and head for the sofa.

* * *

Fans of further medical sleuthing should also check out "The Sleeping Beauties And Other Stories of Mystery Illness" by Suzanne O'Sullivan. It's filled with stories of psychosomatic illnesses from around the world, and how diagnoses were made and victims cured.

Book notes

"Patient Zero: A Curious History of the World's Worst Diseases" by Lydia Kang, MD & Nate Pedersen is available at Barnes & Noble at Apache Mall and through online booksellers.

Terri Schlichenmeyer has been reading since she was 3 years old, and she never goes anywhere without a book. She lives on the prairie in Wisconsin with one man, two dogs and 16,000 books. Look for her at or bookwormsez on Twitter.