Sunday, February 5, 2012
The Hot Zone by Richard Preston
This book, like my previously reviewed one (The Red Market) involves exotic locales, disturbing subjects, and how these things can affect the United States. The exotic locale? Africa. The disturbing subject? The Ebola virus. And what do these things have to do with the United States? Just the simple fact that there was nearly an Ebola breakout in Virginia in the late 1980's.
Preston begins his tale in Kitum cave in Kenya, a possible origin of the ebola virus. He details accounts of people who have suffered from the virus, or similar viruses and describes their symptoms in horrifying detail. Besides Ebola itself, Preston gives a lot of interesting information about viruses in general, viruses related to Ebola, and how viruses are studied and tracked by organizations such as the USAMRIID (US Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases). Some of my favorite parts of the book involve his descriptions of researchers who study risk group 4 pathogens. He describes the safety measures they must take, the environment they must work in, and yes, the close calls they face when things don't always work properly.
Preston focuses the second half of his book on a monkey holding facility in Reston, Virginia that quarantines monkeys from around the world destined for US research laboratories. When monkeys at this facility begin dying, a crisis begins behind the scenes in the United States that many people are probably not aware of.
This book is a great example of why I love the non-fiction genre. It truly can be stranger than fiction. And more horrifying.