What Is a Summary of Richard Preston's The Hot Zone?


Quick Answer

"The Hot Zone," by Richard Preston is a non-fiction science thriller about the spread of the Ebola virus from Africa to the United States. In the book, Preston describes the development of Ebola and other filoviruses and explains how Ebola may jump between animal populations to humans. At the start of the book, Preston describes Charles Monet's visit to Mount Elgon in Central Africa, where Monet contracts the deadly Marburg virus from wild monkeys.

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Preston presents the symptoms of Marburg infection in great detail, emphasizing the deadliness of Marburg and related filovirus diseases. After emerging from Kitum Cave, expatriate Monet falls ill with headaches and backache. This progresses to internal organ failure; eventually Monet bleeds out and dies. A physician contracts the disease while treating Monet in a scene that displays how easily Marburg can be spread.

The author also examines how infections such as Marburg may spread across the globe through following the story of Ebola researcher Nancy Jaax. With suspenseful imagery, Preston shows how Jaax becomes exposed to the virus while working in a biosafety containment area. When her glove tears, a wound on Jaax's hand comes in close contact with a dead, infected monkey. The sobering scene shows that even the most careful people can make mistakes around deadly viruses.

"The Hot Zone" precisely details the biosecurity measures that researchers take when working with deadly viruses at the Hazelton Research facility in Reston, Virginia. This laboratory, which is near Washington, D.C., is the site of an actual Ebola outbreak in 1989. The book describes how the Reston virus, which is fatal to monkeys but which does not have adverse effects on humans, was improperly secured, resulting in exposure to researchers.

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