The Hot Zone and The Killer Virus that Stalks Human Race

My generation is called the ‘millennial generation’. We heard about a virus called Ebola only in 2014, I mean most of us. In Kannur, where I am from, local news is more interesting than global news. We have more news channels than entertainment on TV. Global news does travel to our doorsteps in case there is a big event but only in droplets. The news of Ebola virus outbreak trickled through our many newspapers and TV channels slowly. We understood there was something going on in poor Africa. However, our prime time news debates never picked up the event. It was just passing news. Then, when the Time magazine decided to dedicate their cover to Ebola fighters, we understood it was a real deal.

Time’s person of the year 2014 was not a single person. It was a group—the Ebola fighters. That was an act of boundless respect and fear and hope, as I understand now the situation in more detail. For me, Ebola seemed to have the infectious gag-factor of a zombie image. I even contemplated at the time, the possibility for it being used at some point as a material for some science fiction story. All because I didn’t know what the word Ebola meant and what this virus could achieve in reality among human beings.

This was mostly because I came across the perception-shaker written by Richard Preston titled The Hot Zone only in 2017.

Only in 2017 did I understand that Ebola was around for a long time now.

The Hot Zone narrates the unsettling events between 1967 and 1993. The book initiates a ride into a terrorscape through the events that led to the first major outbreak of Ebola in western Kenya. Later, the virus infiltrates the Washington area, USA through monkeys brought from Philippines. No one knows how the virus travelled from Africa to Philippines. Perhaps, it’s airborne, as it was discovered about the particular strain that affected the monkeys in the Washington area.

The Hot Zone was published in 1994. I was born in 1984. The chronology of events in The Hot Zone implies that the Ebola virus was around even before my birth.

I came across The Hot Zone while doing a research on thrillers.

The Hot Zone, apparently, is not just a book on Ebola. It appeared to me as more than that. Individuals who never met before, from many different cultures, and families come together for a war against a hot virus. The meaning is clear. It is in our connecting with each other as a species that we learn to rebuild what we lost in our tendencies to tear apart.

The Hot Zone is significant not just as a book on a scientific challenge. It also serves the purpose of treating its subject matter like a thriller, structured as a thriller. That was the reason it ended up in the recommendations on thrillers.

The book involves the events from the earliest documented cases of Ebola outbreak known as Ebola Zaire, a Marburg-like filovirus. The language and the sentences do not mar the realism in the events even though the book is high quality adrenalin generator. It only means that the events that followed the early Ebola outbreak  is indeed both suspenseful and infinitely horrifying.

The Hot Zone opens our minds to two possible movements. One is the humanity’s movement towards the hidden corners of earth previously covered by dense tropical rain forests, a major habitat for many life forms. The other is the silent predator moving towards us, the whole of primate species. These movements are bound to meet up with each other at some point in time. It is only a question of when. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported a recent outbreak of Ebola in the Democratic Republic of Congo in May 11, 2017. The outbreaks haven’t ceased entirely and the virus, according to Richard Preston, has reached Asian continent.

The CDC lists the signs and symptoms of Ebola as follows:

“Fever, Severe headache, Muscle pain, Weakness, Fatigue, Diarrhea, Vomiting, Abdominal (stomach) pain, and Unexplained hemorrhage (bleeding or bruising)”. The CDC also suggests that the “symptoms may appear anywhere from 2 to 21 days after exposure to Ebola, but the average is 8 to 10 days.”

The Hot Zone has four parts. The first part, for me, is the scariest part. There was a moment when I stopped reading the book altogether because I could not move forward through the events that were unveiled in the most terrifying manner. The Hot Zone is also a model for how a good thriller could be crafted. Therefore, I recommend this book to all the aspiring thriller writers. Published by Anchor Books, The Hot Zone is a modern thriller classic that is classified in science non-fiction category, a place where most people would never expect a writing style so harmonious with the emotional side of the human story. Richard Preston’s language and style, the structure of the narration as such, captures the “hair-raising” horrors associated with the outbreak of Ebola.

There is no known treatment to Ebola virus infection. Ebola could potentially spread through the air, at least some of its variant strains. And there are two types of people—those who read The Hot Zone and those who haven’t.

No newspaper in Kerala reports Ebola or its recent appearance in Africa. For us, it’s a distant echo of fear. This must be something like the end of the world, or zombie apocalypse, but far away for us in Kannur, Kerala. There are people who discuss post-humanism in our academic circles and the act of removing human species from the center of environmental discourse. The life forms the Richard Preston talks about in The Hot Zone do not really help that vision. Faced with this invisible demon, we are ever more species centered. Also there is “the hot zone” that are described in the book in detail. The army facility like the USAMRIID in the US where microorganisms that are agents of highly contagious disease like Ebola are kept in quarantine from the rest of the world. This is to conduct experiments in the direction of finding vaccines for protection against those deadly agents that are evolved to kill. These facilities keep nature in the form of microbes, within a building. Then, we try to maximize the prevention of chances of these microorganisms mingling with the outside world. How could we address this scenario philosophically, socially or politically? A denial of this scenario is also not possible. The Hot Zone leaves open questions for the generations to come.

Author(s): Richard Preston
Publisher: Anchor
Release: July 1995
Genre: Non Fiction/Health
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Anu Lal is an Indo-Anglian-Southern author. Many of his short fiction, poetry, and essays are published in national and international journals. He is also a research scholar, educator, book reviewer, and a blogger.

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