Analysis of the Deadly Virus in Richard Preston’s The Hot Zone
The Hot Zone
This non-fiction book was written in 1994. It covers the time period between 1967 and 1963. It’s about deadly viruses, particularly strains of the Ebola virus and the Marburg virus, and tells how easily they can be spread and how quickly and violently they can kill. It’s a disturbing book because there is no known cure for Ebola.
The book started by telling the story of Charles Monet, a worker in a sugar factory that lived in Africa near Mount Elgon. He contracted the Marburg virus and died. It’s believed that he may have somehow gotten in contact with the virus when he was in a cave called Kitum cave on Mount Elgon-but no one seems to be certain.
Monet visited Kitum cave (which is a petrified forest) on New Year’s Day in 1980. He got a headache the seventh day after he visited the cave. Then he got a severe backache. The third day after his headache started, he began to vomit-eventually got the dry heaves. Over the course of the next several days he got progressively more ill and his personality changed. He became resentful, sullen, and didn’t always remember where he was. By the time he went to the local hospital, his head was turning black and blue. The local hospital didn’t know how to treat him so they told him to get on a plane and go to the hospital in Nairobi hospital, which he did.
Charles Monet became very ill on the plane ride. By the time he got to Nairobi, his face muscles were drooping because the connective tissue in his face was dissolving. The Marburg virus was basically eating him alive. When Monet got to the Nairobi Hospital, he was not even treated right away. He had to sit in the waiting room, where he eventually went into shock.
Dr. Shem Musoke tried to save Charles Monet’s life, but it was too late. The virus had already destroyed his body. While Dr. Musoke was trying to save Charles Monet, he was infected with the virus, but Dr. Musoke survived. Dr. David Silverstein was the doctor who took care of Dr. Musoke. Dr. Silverstein sent samples of Dr. Musoke’s serum to the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta Georgia. The center discovered that Dr. Musoke had the Marburg virus.
Marburg is thought to be an African virus that first erupted in Germany in 1967. It erupted in a factory that produced vaccines using kidney cells from African monkeys. The virus was in at least one of the monkeys shipped to Germany. The virus spread through the monkeys and then jumped species, erupting in the human population. Thirty-one people caught the virus-seven of them died in pools of their own blood.
Marburg is a virus that is in a family of viruses called filovirus. The Ebola viruses are also filovirus, but with the exception of Ebola Reston virus (which hasn’t killed any humans), the other Ebola viruses are even more deadly than the Marburg virus. One strain of Ebola, Ebola Zaire, has a death rate of 90%. It could virtually wipe out most of the earth’s population if it was able to amplify itself in humans. It was pointed out in the book that with today’s global environment and the ease of getting around the world, a virus could be spread throughout the whole world in as little as seven days. Seven to nine days is the incubation period for the Ebola viruses. The virus could be on every continent of the world before the first person that got it becomes sick. That’s because Ebola Zaire, is a level 4 hot agent, that travels from host to host very quickly. That is a very, very scary prospect. We are so lucky this hasn’t happened yet, but the threat it there.
These viruses are thought to have come from the African rain forests, just like AIDS. As the ecological balance of the rain forests becomes more and more unbalanced due to humans destroying it, who knows how many viruses or other deadly diseases that are dormant in the rain forest could infect the human race. It’s like Richard Preston said in the book. He said it seemed like the rain forests are declaring war on the species that is trying to destroy them. The rain forests are fighting back by trying to destroy the human race before the human race destroys them.
After the book tells the stories of Charles Monet and Dr Musoke, and how Ebola first jumped into the human species in Germany, the book goes on to talk about more virus outbreaks in Africa where people died tortuous and gruesome deaths. This isn’t a book to read if a person has a weak stomach. The descriptions of what the virus does to people are very graphic. I wouldn’t recommend reading this book right after eating.
A large part of the book is devoted to an outbreak of Ebola at a company located in Reston, Virginia that imported African monkeys. The book describes how the military and the Centers for Disease Control got involved with trying to isolate what was killing the monkeys in the monkey house and discovering that it was a strain of Ebola that was eventually called Reston. Luckily, Reston is not fatal to humans. No one who came in contact with the infected monkeys ever developed Ebola.
The book goes into the political fighting that happened between the military and the Centers for De Control because they both wanted control over the situation at the monkey house in Virginia. The author also delves into the personal lives of some of the people that were involved in various aspects of this situation.
Nancy Jaax was one of those people. She was a veterinary pathologist with the military. She worked with the deadly Ebola viruses, handling the hot agents and doing autopsies on monkeys that had been infected with it. During the time that Nancy was right in the middle of dealing with the fact that her father was dying. Instead of going to see her dying father, even after he called her asking her to come see him, she thought it was more important to work on the monkeys-monkeys who were already dead. It’s sad that she thought no one else could handle her job for a few days while she paid a last visit to her dad. I don’t think she understood how important human relationships are.
All the monkeys at the monkey house in Virginia were eventually destroyed because no one was able to stop the virus and since there is no known cure for Ebola and no vaccine to prevent it. As of the writing of the book, the building where the infected monkeys lived was vacant and abandoned.
This book was so scary because everything described in this book really happened. When I think about what could happened to humans if one of the deadly viruses was able to amplify itself in humans, I get the shivers. Experts believe that the viruses are dormant somewhere in Africa, and maybe other places too, just waiting to find a host to amplify itself in-a host that could be human.
Another thing that scares me is that there are tubes of this virus preserved at military institutions and the Centers for Disease Control, and also at other research facilities around the world. I shudder to think what would happened if some of that virus got into the hands of the wrong people. Someone evil could wipe out entire populations with that virus.
Ebola is a threat to the entire human race. Just like we don’t know what the full effect of AIDS will be on the human population, we don’t know what the Ebola viruses may someday do to us if they are able to infect us. On top of that, we don’t know what other evils lurk in the rainforests. We continue to harvest and raze the rainforests without thinking about what we might be bringing into the human race. To me, this makes the preservation of what is left of the rain forests even more important. I think it’s incredibly dangerous to upset the ecological balance any more than it already is, especially if we want to preserve human life as we know it.
I recommend this book to adult readers who are able to stomach graphic descriptions of some pretty horrifying events. The story it tells is one the people should be aware of. They should know about the dangers lurking on this planet.
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