Biological Principles in The Hot Zone by Richard Preston
The Hot Zone is a non-fiction book surrounding the horrors of Ebola. Richard Preston begins the novel, In Africa, 1980, speaking about the Marburg virus, and how it ultimately led to the gory and brutal death of Charles Monet. Preston continues, now talking about the initial Marburg outbreak in Germany. The outbreak started at the vaccine factory in Marburg, Germany, hence the namesake of the virus. In Sudan, the narrative continues, recounting the tale of Yu G, a storekeeper who contracted the brutal virus, eventually spreading to and throughout his village, and ultimately the general area. Medical clinics all over the country have now caused the outbreak of strain Ebola Zaire, as well as Ngalemia Hospital, leading to the story of Mayinga, a nurse who contracted the virus because of medical negligence at the facility. Shifting to the American influence, Preston then focuses the story to scientists in the U.S, one being Nancy Jaax. Her speciality in medicine led to Jaax taking part in the race to find a cure for Ebola. As the novel begins to focus on the Ebola strain discovered by Jaax in the1980’s in the Reston, Virginia monkey facility, it delves into the biological side of the research and findings of the strains, explaining the details of the virus. Nearing the end of the book, Preston then describes the SWAT mission to break into the monkey facility and euthanize them, as well as take samples, not without risk of exposure, though. Their findings concluded that the strain is extremely deadly in the primates but is undetectable in humans. Finally, Preston recounts his experience in the origin Hot Zone, where the Marburg was first contracted, in Kitum Caveat. Five passages in this book utilizing biological principles are:
As seen on page 135 (pictured in back few pages), the book uses biological lingo to communicate the dangers of the virus. “That many particles of airborne Ebola could easily hatch out of a single cell. A tiny amount of airborne Ebola could nuke a building full of people if it got into the air conditioning system.” (Preston, 135). This quote shows how deadly the virus is because of how contagious it is. This also portrays how effectively their DNA is transmitted to other beings, leading to an outbreak in a community.
Another example of the addition of biology in the novel is on page 155, “It was not multiplying or doing anything, since the monkey’s cells were dead. But if the agent touched living cells, Nancy’s cells, it would come alive and begin to amplify itself. In theory, it could amplify itself around the world in the human species. ” (155, Preston). This passage shows again the maliciousness of the virus and how it functions. Preston likely included this for the scare-factor, and the biology makes the reader realize that yes, this is reality even though it is not unlike a horror story. It has real science to back up its existence.
Preston again utilizes biology in page 156, “In biology, nothing is clear, everything is too complicated, everything is a mess, and just when you think you understand something, you peel off a layer and find deeper complications beneath.” (Preston, 156). This quotation sums up biology as an incredible and complex science, and how important it is, albeit frightening. In this Ebola case, biology is where the virus exists, in the miniscule cells and nuclei. Preston included this quote because it effectively portrays how complicated biology is, and the amount of work that goes into researching strains, like Ebola.
On page 160, I noticed an amusing mix of humor and biological principles “He rested that day in a hut, and gave himself a transfusion of two bags of blood serum that supposedly contained antibodies that might protect him from Ebola virus – he had carried the bags with him, chilled on ice, and now he hoped they would save his life.” (Preston, 160). This passage shows again how paranoid doctors would be around their patients, and how careless accidents can ruin a life. The physician here poked himself with a needle that was previously in a woman who was suspected to have Ebola. The antibodies spoken here were a person’s blood who is immune to the virus, which shows the resolution many believed would work in this time of panic.
Lastly, Preston uses this obvious allusion to biology “That sloughing of the gut was a class sign. The intestine was blitzed, completely full of uncoagulated, runny blood, and at the same time the monkey had massive blood clotting in the intestinal muscles. The clotting had shut off blood circulation to the gut, and the cells in the gut subsequently died” (Preston, 183). This paragraph gives graphic imagery of the insides of the monkey and how the virus was wreaking havoc on the cells and internal organs of the animals. The description of blood and tissue portrays how brutal the virus is to the primates. This was likely included for the shock value we all felt as we witnessed the bloody aftermath of the virus. It is also useful in giving the novel scientific credibility, as using less scientific words would lead to a large misconception as to how serious the damage is.
This book impacted me because I remember a few years ago, that many people were in a panic over the Ebola outbreak in Africa, and that it was brought over by some travelers. The frenzy it sent people into was terrifying, and the topic of Ebola made me think of the time that it was suspected someone in Humble, down the street from my old school contracted the virus. H1N1 was also prevalent in my younger years, as both my cousin contracted it, and my childhood friend. They both lived, but had mild cases and thankfully caught it early because of the panic everyone felt when they got sick around those times. Epidemics such as these are scary to us because of how contagious they are.
I believe College Board thought this book would be beneficial to Biology students because it is a useful application to biology and it is relatable and easy to comprehend. It is very effective in scaring the reader into fascination with viruses and how they are as powerful as they are.
I think this book is a great one for biology students because it is very easy to read but also somewhat in depth in biology without going over the reader’s head. It is very useful fro applying and understanding concepts learned in AP Biology.
I liked this book a lot because of how interesting it was that the novel was almost suspenseful, although it was non-fiction. The book kept me extremely interested as to how the vaccine would be found, if it would be, and how many lives the virus would take. The symptoms and results of the virus was a very scary thing to read, and it makes the reader very paranoid about viruses, as we should be.
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The Hot Zone by Richard Preston is a fascinating book that goes through various dangerous viral biological outbreaks occurring mainly between the 1970s and the 1980s. The Hot Zone is […]
The Hot Zone is a non-fiction book surrounding the horrors of Ebola. Richard Preston begins the novel, In Africa, 1980, speaking about the Marburg virus, and how it ultimately led […]