The Hot Zone

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

A hundred million microorganisms of the Ebola virus, rampant in parts of Zaire and the Sudan during the late 1970’s and the 1980’s, could, in their crystallized form, fit on the period at the end of this sentence. Strains of this virus, far deadlier and considerably swifter than the AIDS virus, are so virulent that, after an incubation period of three to fifteen days, during which they replicate with incredible speed in the cells of primates including humans, they devastate the host by attacking its vital organs and liquefying its flesh and connective tissue.

The illness caused by the virus starts with a headache and rapidly advances to uncontrollable bleeding from every orifice. The inner lining of the intestines is sloughed off and expelled with the blood. The weakened heart muscle is flooded with blood, which also gushes into the brain. The spleen grows from its normal walnut size to the size of a baseball, becoming so leathery as to be virtually impenetrable with a scalpel.

By the time the victim dies, the liver is like that typically found in a cadaver three or four days after death. Although not proved, airborne transmission of some strains of the virus, transmitted easily through blood and other body fluids, is suspected.

Preston records in electrifying detail and with meticulous accuracy the progression of the plagues caused by this virus, focusing over half his book on an outbreak in 1989 in Reston, Virginia, spawned by monkeys imported from the Philippines as laboratory animals. The tale of how this threat was brought under control is riveting.

Sources for Further Study

British Medical Journal. CCCIX, October 29, 1994, p. 1168.

Library Journal. CXIX, August, 1994, p. 121.

Los Angeles Times Book Review. September 25, 1994, p. 4.

Nature. CCCLXXII, November 17, 1994, p. 294.

New Scientist. CXLIV, November 19, 1994, p. 45.

The New York Times Book Review. XCIX, October 30, 1994, p. 13.

Newsweek. CXXIV, September 19, 1994, p. 64.

Publishers Weekly. CCXLI, June 27, 1994, p. 61.

Scientific American. XXVII, November, 1994, p. 114.

Time. CXLIV, September 5, 1994, p. 66.