Book Report: The Hot Zone

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The Hot Zone: A terrifying true Story is a fast-paced scientific thriller that unravels the sheer horror of reality and its menacing entities. Richard Preston, along with Anchor books, had successfully published The Hot Zonein the year 1995 with its descriptions of filoviruses and their gruesome effect in the body of a primate. The book is mainly divided into four parts; all of which come together to further clarify the severity of an outbreak where a mutated strain of Ebola Virus appeared in Reston, Virginia in 1989. Limited human knowledge, the power of nature, chance, fear, and selfishness, were all depicted in the scenarios that Preston included. With the use of such raw elements, The Hot Zoneshows the rather disturbing frankness of being a human.

The first part in The Hot Zone, “The Shadow of Mount Elgon,” discusses the historical and explanatory aspects of virology, and the first chronicled cases with Marburg and Ebola viruses. In the second part, “The Monkey House,” and the third part, titled  “Smashdown,” Preston mentions the discovery of the Reston virus in Virginia along with the subsequent response of the Centers for Disease Control and the Army of the United States to control the sudden manifestation of such ordeal. Finally, in the fourth part, “Kitum Cave,” Preston ends his book by describing his personal visit to a cave in Africa that is thought to be the core source of spreading the Marburg virus by containing its natural host.

The Hot Zoneinvolves many themes that depict a rather realistic portrayal of how the public and the authorities react to viral outbreaks. The first theme Preston includes is the constraint of human knowledge. Although the characters that handle hot agents are people who are highly trained scientists with significant experience, Preston does make it clear that their knowledge on filoviruses is in fact inadequate. For, the scientists could neither create a cure nor a preventative vaccine against filoviruses. Preston also states that only three from the seven proteins are known in filovirus strains. The remaining proteins are yet to be identified, and the origin of the Marburg virus is still an open case along with the unexplained mystery of Kitum Cave and its relation to these havoc inducing outbreaks.

Another theme Preston uses is the power of nature. Preston gives an attentive eye when it comes to nature. In almost every new setting he gives a very thorough descriptor of its landscape. By mentioning details like the type of trees that grow in a certain setting, or whether there exists a body of water around the place, Preston intends to further emphasize the role of nature in biological disasters such as outbreaks of viral infections. Also, Preston shows that nature has the ultimate power, for it decides whether humans could thrive on its realm or be damned with a destructive, mystifying entity. While scientists such as Gene Johnson and Nancy Jaax can attempt to grasp the concept of filoviruses and how they work, it is undeniable that all humans are at the mercy of nature’s enigmatic order. 

Chance makes up a significant part of how viruses spread and which amongst us falls prey to them. A virus doesn’t regard occupation, age, or personality. It strikes indiscriminately. Such is shown in the section where Nurse Mayinga and Dr. Isaacson are both exposed to a patient dying with Ebola Zaire; however, only the Nurse succumbs to the virus. Therefore, Preston highlights scenarios to show how chance seems to be the only factor that could prevent an individual from being infected. With that being said, fear dominates almost every situation dealt with in the book. The fear of death, the fear of exposure, and the fear of the unknown all take course between all characters in the book. Nevertheless, Preston emphasizes the importance of fear to inspire further research on hot agents. Because Gene Johnson fears the Ebola virus to a level where he suffers from recurring nightmares, he became very committed to the process of locating the origin of the virus and putting the utmost safety measures in practice whilst doing so.

Beyond a shadow of a doubt, there are many characters who are fundamentally selfish whilst facing the threats of a filovirus. For instance, Nurse Mayinga, Tom Geisbert, and Peter Jahrling were all potentially exposed to Ebola; however, each of these characters decided to deny the possibility for their personal selfish reasons. Mayinga is determined to travel regardless of potentially exposing dozens of people along the way. Geisbert and Jarhling chose to keep the fact that they had whiffed a potentially airborne virus from the officials they were working with. Preston included those details to show how people act out in favor of their personal self-interest rather than the overall health of their community. 

Through and through, The Hot Zonecontains precise and fast occurring details that mimic the rapid progression of actual viral outbreaks. It is a haunting book that taught me the unbearable cost of survival. For, The Hot Zoneis not merely a book, it is reality in itself. It has shown me the true horror of an invisible predator. For all of the aforementioned reasons, I will definitely recommend this book to people. Ultimately, until knowledge and science can catch up with filoviruses, the persistence of research will hopefully provide us with answers.

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