My Thoughts about The Hot Zone by Richard Preston

March 18, 2021 by Essay Writer

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 not a fictitious work, rather, it is documentation of a series of dangerous virus outbreaks located primarily in Africa. It begins with information regarding an outbreak of the rare and extremely deadly Marburg virus. Frenchman Charles Monet is in Kenya in 1979, working at a sugar factory. He decides to visit Kitum cave with a friend, and later contracts the Marburg virus. The Marburg virus behaves almost identically to the Ebola virus, its symptoms including fever, red spots, swelling, low blood pressure, internal bleeding, muscle pain, vomiting, diarrhea, headache hemorrhage, and shock. Charles Monet takes a plane and then a taxi to Nairobi hospital, where he loses consciousness and collapses bleeding onto the Emergency Room floor. He is treated by Dr. Shem Musoke but unfortunately infects Dr. Musoke before dying in the Intensive Care Unit. Dr. Musoke’s case is picked up by another doctor, Dr. Silverstein. Preston goes through different Marburg virus outbreaks before shifting to multiple strains of Ebola. He outlines the extraordinary danger that comes with handling the viruses and describes in graphic detail all the precautions that Major Nancy Jaax took when she worked with viruses in the “hot zone” (the areas of a laboratory contaminated with a virus) of the United States Army Medical Research Insitute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID). Preston does a fantastic job outlining the handling of each outbreak as well as the dangers of each virus and the significant threat they each pose to humanity.

Anyone interested in the medical field, biology, or taking/planning to take Honors Biology should read The Hot Zone by Richard Preston, which details horrifyingly dangerous viral agents in addition to their treatments and the extreme threat they pose. Preston does a great job describing the viruses. When a new strain of Ebola is discovered, he details its shape, saying the viruses look like “snakes, pigtails, branchy, forked things that looked like the letter Y… a classic shape… Shepherd’s crook” (Preston 72). He uses virologists as sources in his book, such as Karl Johnson, who helped discover Ebola (Preston 72). Preston does not just talk about the shape and discovery of viruses but also talks about their effects. He states that Monet’s liver “had ceased functioning several days before he died… It was yellow, and parts of it had liquified… It was as if Monet had become a corpse before his death” (Preston 18). The great detail he provides to readers would be especially interesting to those studying or interested in studying biology or biological agents, as he provides far more detail about the real-world impacts of these viruses than the biology textbooks currently used do. After Preston gives plenty of background on a virus, he describes their treatments. When detailing Dr. Musoke’s time with the Marburg virus, he describes how difficult it is to care for Marburg patients. Dr. Silverstein, who treated Dr. Musoke, told Preston that he “tried to give him nutrition, and tried to lower his fevers when they were high… was basically taking care of somebody without a gameplan” (Preston 21). Preston makes it a point to show where treatments fail as well. He points out that “even in the best modern hospitals, where patients are hooked up to life-support machines, Marburg kills a quarter of the patients who are infected with it” (Preston 23). He shows the real danger of these viruses not only with their effects but also with the effectiveness of their treatments, which can be alarmingly minimal. As Preston discusses the treatments for viral agents like Marburg, he shows the lack of knowledge regarding the topic as well as how deadly these viruses could be. Finally, Preston shows how threatened even trained and suited up experts are by viruses like Ebola and Marburg, which capitalizes on the risk they pose to humanity. He explains that the “doctors in the city thought the world was coming to an end” and even includes a letter from Karl Johnson, a former CDC virologist, who said that “unless you include the feeling generated by gazing into the eyes of a waving confrontational cobra, ‘fascination’ is not what I feel about Ebola. How about shit scared?” (Preston 23, 72). The fact that trained medical professionals are terrified of viruses that are halfway around the world from where the doctors live, and that medical professionals remain terrified when handling the viruses despite wearing many, many layers of protection provided by what is literally considered a “biological spacesuit,” is proof that these viral agents pose a serious threat to all of mankind (Preston 44).

One could argue that this book is overdramatic or exaggerated and that that takes away from its validity, but that (unfortunately for humanity) simply is not the case. Preston does not make up viruses, outbreaks, or experts in his book. Instead, he contacts experts involved in them. Preston has relentlessly pursued truth and accurate information, stating that “my fax was received [by an expert he contacted], but there was no reply. So I waited a day and then sent him another fax” (Preston 72). Preston followed similar determined pursuits of information with his multitudes of other sources, such as Major Nancy Jaax, Dr. David Silverstein, Dr. Musoke, and USAMRIID (Preston 30, 20, 16, 36). The fact that Preston has gone to such great efforts for accurate information, and that he has described these efforts so as to ensure his audience understands that he is not overstating anything is proof that Preston is writing to raise awareness and caution rather than creating exaggerations for causing panic. If Preston was interested in publishing overly dramatized books on viral outbreaks, he could do that easily with a fictitious book and far less time spent researching. But he did not do that. Instead, he involved every expert he could.

To conclude, The Hot Zone by Richard Preston is a phenomenal book detailing the characteristics, treatments, and tremendous risks associated with the world’s deadliest viruses, and should be read by anyone interested in the medical field so they know exactly what kind of world they are getting involved with.

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