Book Report: The Hot Zone by Richard Preston
In October of l989, Macaque monkeys, housed at the Reston Primate
Quarantine Unit in Reston, Virginia, began dying from a mysterious disease at an
alarming rate. The monkeys, imported from the Philippines, were to be sold as
laboratory animals. Twenty-nine of a shipment of one hundred died within a month.
Dan Dalgard, the veterinarian who cared for the monkeys, feared they were dying
from Simian Hemorrhagic Fever, a disease lethal to monkeys but harmless to
humans. Dr. Dalgard decided to enlist the aid of the United States Army Medical
Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID) to help diagnose the case.
On November 28th, Dr. Peter Jahlring of the Institute was in his lab testing a
virus culture from the monkeys. Much to his horror, the blood tested positive
for the deadly Ebola Zaire virus. Ebola Zaire is the most lethal of all strains
of Ebola. It is so lethal that nine out of ten of its victims die. Later, the
geniuses at USAMRIID found out that it wasn't Zaire, ! but a new strain of Ebola,
which they named Ebola Reston. This was added to the list of strains: Ebola
Zaire, Ebola Sudan, and now, Reston. These are all level-four hot viruses. That
means there are no vaccines and there are no cures for these killers.
In 1976 Ebola climbed out of its primordial hiding place in the jungles
of Africa, and in two outbreaks in Zaire and Sudan wiped out six hundred people.
But the virus had never been seen outside of Africa and the consequences of
having the virus in a busy suburb of Washington DC is too terrifying to
contemplate. Theoretically, an airborne strain of Ebola could emerge and circle
the world in about six weeks. Ebola virus victims usually "crash and bleed," a
military term which literally means the virus attacks every organ of the body
and transforms every part of the body into a digested slime of virus particles.
A big point that Preston wanted to get across was the fact that the public
thinks that the HIV virus is quite possibly the most horrible virus on Earth,
when no one takes into mind the effects and death of the victims of Ebola.
Preston shows how Ebola and Marburg (a close relative of Ebola) is one hundred
times more contagious, one hundred times as lethal, and one hundr! ed times as
fast as HIV. "Ebola does in ten days what it takes HIV ten years to accomplish,"
wrote Richard Preston. The virus, though, has a hard time spreading, because the
victims usually die before contact with a widespread amount of civilians. If
there were to be another outbreak in North America, the results would be
Upon reading The Hot Zone, one could easily believe that this compelling
yet terrifying story sprang from the imaginations of Stephen King or Michael
Crichton. But the frightening truth is that the events actually occurred and
that "could-be-catastrophe" was avoided by the combined heroic efforts of
various men and women from USAMRIID and the Center for Disease Control. Preston
writes compassionately and admiringly of the doctors, virologists and
epidemiologists who are the real-life Indiana Jones' of the virus trail. Some
like Dr. Joe McCormick, Karl Johnson, and CJ Peters spent years tracking down
deadly viruses in the jungles of South America and Africa, some narrowly
escaping death. Their work is filled with courage, brilliance and sometimes
petty rivalries. Others, like Dr. Nancy Jaax have lived rather conventional
lives, aside from the fact that they don a space suit and work with highly
lethal viruses on a regular basis.
Preston has written a fast-paced and fascinating novel of medical panic.
His gripping narrative is filled with horrifying and gore-filled descriptions
and tension-building plot turns. From depictions of events at a Belgian Hospital
in Africa to the nerve-racking laboratory scenes in Virginia, he is adept at
keeping the reader riveted. At the conclusion the reader is left with the
chilling and fact based haunting after thought "what if?"