The Hotzone: a reaction

The Hot Zone: A Reaction
The Hot Zone written by Robert Preston is a true story describing twenty-three years of shocking and frightening outbreaks of three deadly, incurable filoviruses: Marburg, Ebola Sudan, and Ebola Zaire. In the book, these highly infectious viruses sweep through Africa with a horrifying and devastating range of effects, killing 50% to 90% of their victims. The filoviruses did not remain in the rain forest of central Africa; they also appeared on the other side of the world in the Reston Primate Quarantine Unit in Reston, Virginia.
The virus had never been seen outside of Africa until 1967 when the Ebola virus climbed out of its hiding place in the jungles of Africa and landed in Germany and Yugoslavia which is where the first recorded outbreak of Marburg virus occurred. It appeared in July 1976. A storekeeper in a cotton factory in Nzara, about 800 km from Mount Elgon, died from the marburge virus. Two months later, another 800 km west, Ebola virus erupted in Zaire. These outbreaks wiped out six hundred people Killing 70% of the infected people. Victims of the Ebola virus usually “crash and bleed,” with in ten days. “Crash and bleed” is a military term which describes the attack of the virus on every organ of the body and transforming the structures into digested slime hot with the virus.
In October of l989, Macaque monkeys, housed in the unit in Reston, Virginia, began dying from a mysterious disease at an alarming rate. The monkeys, who were imported from the Philippines, were to be sold as laboratory animals. Twenty-nine of a shipment of one hundred
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monkeys 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 1989, 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 kills nine out of ten of its victims, but has difficulty spreading. The spread of the virus from person to person is predominantly by blood contact. The victims usually die before it comes in contact with a widespread amount of civilians. An airborne strain of Ebola could emerge and circle the world in about six weeks killing much of the population. Through more studies, the scientists at USAMRIID found out that it wasn’t Zaire; they had discovered a new strain of Ebola, which they named Ebola Reston. This strain of the Ebola virus was airborne eliminating the difficulty it had with spreading. This added to the list of strains: Ebola Zaire, Ebola Sudan, and now, Reston are all level-four hot viruses, which means there are no vaccines or cures for these killers.
Preston’s description of the medical catastrophe that happened at the Belgian hospital in Africa, in the laboratory in Virginia, and his reconstruction of the steps the Army scientists took to identify the infectious agent in the monkey facility was eye opening. I have never before read such an amazing true story. The events described in this book were nerve-racking and educational. It helps to improve mainstream audience’s understanding of emerging infectious disease. Preston compared the Ebola strains to Aids, and I feel this was because he wanted his audience to understand that HIV, although it is horrible, is not the most horrible virus to exist. This point was clearly portrayed in his description of the painstaking actions taken by the army
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scientists to prevent the spread of the disease, and in his detailed description of the horrifying suffering and death of the Ebola victims. Preston even states, “Ebola does in ten days what it
takes HIV ten years to accomplish,” Ebola is more contagious, spreads quicker, has a higher mortality rate. Ebola and all of it strains are by far more dangerous.

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This novel was well written, well researched, fast passed, entertaining, and educational. It was a horrifying and gory story that continued to keep me on the edge of my seat throughout the story. In other words this was one of the best novels I have read in a long time. I enjoyed the clarity in which he describes the survival instincts and the viruses’ method of replication. I loved how he pointed out how small changes in the environment could have catastrophic effects world wide. I enjoyed his description of the precautions taken in the level four biohazard facilities. His descriptions almost instill a certain amount respect for the virus and the people who work with them. I now understand how complicated viruses can be, especially in the way the can mutate to adapt to there environments. I would recommend everyone to read this book, and I feel it is a great addition to class.


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