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March 07, 1993|CHARLES SOLOMON

THE SCIENCE OF VIRUSES: What They Are, How They Make Us Sick, How They Will Change the Future by Ann Giudici Fettner (Quill: $12; 287 pp.). Consisting of little more than a strand of DNA (just RNA in some types) within a protein envelope, viruses are among the simplest and most ancient extant life forms. Fettner's intelligent introductory study focuses on the spectrum of noxious diseases they cause, including dengue, influenza, rabies, hepatitis and AIDS. The simplicity of these microorganisms makes it difficult for the human immune system to combat them: Viruses enter body cells and literally take them over, chemically altering the DNA. Fettner notes that recent medical discoveries suggest viral infections may be responsible for a variety of other medical problems, including Parkinsonism, Alzheimer's and arteriosclerosis. An intriguing, if unsettling book.

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