The HotZone

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 unspeakable.
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?"

Category: English