In October of 1989, Macaque monkeys, housed at the Reston Primate Quarantine Unit in Reston, Virginia, began dying from a mysterious disease at an alarming rate. The wild monkeys, imported from the Philippines, were to be sold as laboratory animals. Two were dead upon arrival, and twenty-nine of a shipment of one hundred 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 cause. On November 18, Dr. Peter Jahlring, of USAMRIID was in his lab testing a virus culture from the monkeys and much to his horror, the blood tested positive for the deadly Ebola Zaire virus… Or so he thought. Later, scientists at the USAMRIID found that it wasn’t Zaire, but in fact a new strain of Ebola, which they named Ebola Reston. This was added to the list of strains: Ebola Zaire, Ebola Sudan, and now, Ebola Reston, which are all lethal level four viruses that have no vaccines.
This is the story that Richard Preston composed into the novel, “The Hot Zone”. My favorite elements of the book are the descriptions and the story behind the virus. It gives me a sense of background and makes the story a little more personal; like it could happen to me. I also (grossly enough) am fascinated by the descriptions of the people dying from the virus. When victims “crash and bleed” it means the virus has attacked every organ in the body by transforming it into a slime saturated with viruses. Also, bowels open up and vent blood accompanied by a sound of bed sheets being torn in half.
It is amazing that a microscopic virus can cause such a dreadful death to nine out of ten people it affects! It would be terrifying if it would have broken out in a world-wide pandemic. This made me curious about another possible pandemic, the Avian Flu. I wanted to know if Ebola and Avian Flu had any similarities, so I did some research: WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Ebola shares a closer relationship with several bird viruses than was previously thought, bolstering the case for a common ancestor and hinting that birds might carry the deadly virus, a Purdue University research team reports.
David Sanders and his research group have discovered that the outer protein shell of Ebola has a biochemical structure similar to several retroviruses carried by birds. As scientists had known previously of genetic similarity among the viruses, this discovery makes a common evolutionary origin even more likely. It also suggests that Ebola could be spread to human populations by birds as well. “We knew these viruses were inwardly similar, and now we see their outer similarity as well,” said Sanders, associate professor of biological sciences in Purdue’s School of Science.
“While bird transmission of Ebola is by no means certain, the resemblance among all these viruses should encourage health officials to be on guard for it. ” Too bad this is a recent discovery, or else I would assume he would have included it in the book to add to the terror. When reading “The Hot Zone”, it is easy to catch yourself thinking it is a Stephen King or Michael Crichton thriller. But the frightening truth is that these events actually happened and luckily, the could-be-catastrophe was avoided by combined efforts of men and women from the USAMRID and the CDC.
I am very appreciative of the doctors and virologists that risked their lives to save the world from Ebola exposure. I enjoyed this book, and would recommend it to just about everyone (except those with weak stomachs). I think that this book gives the public knowledge about the close-calls and risks with viruses by not only gives facts, but telling an amazing story. Preston’s accurate descriptions and nerve-racking situations leave the reader with the chilling thought, “what if? “