THE HOT ZONE by Richard Preston


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 A bone-chilling account of a close encounter with a lethal virus, by New Yorker writer Preston (American Steel, 1991). The African rain forests from which HIV emerged are home to other viruses that make AIDS seem like child's play. Preston opens with a disturbingly graphic description of the meltdown of a human body invaded by a filovirus. Essentially, the body liquefies, spilling out billions of copies of the deadly virus, which can trigger an explosive chain of lethal transmission. Only micro-outbreaks have occurred so far, but the potential exists for worldwide catastrophe. In the fall of 1989, a monkey- importing company with a primate quarantine unit in Reston, Va. (about ten miles from Washington, D.C.), noted that its monkeys were dying off at an alarming rate and with suspicious symptoms. When the cause was found to be Ebola, a particularly deadly filovirus, all hell broke loose. The US Army quickly took over, and a SWAT team was sent in to halt the spread of the virus. The complicated and hazardous job required the donning of biological space suits, entering the monkey house (the ``hot zone''), killing each monkey, and retrieving tissue samples. A major portion of the book is about this operation, which had to be conducted in secret, since public awareness could easily have meant widespread panic. Preston is adept at telling the story through the voices of the participants, who become very real (he employs pseudonyms only twice). That the virus, now known as Ebola Reston, turned out not to affect humans is small comfort: Viruses mutate rapidly, and the rain forests are only a plane ride away. A totally convincing page turner, proving that truth is scarier than fiction. Portions of this biomedical thriller appeared in the New Yorker in somewhat different form; it will be made into a movie starring Robert Redford and directed by Ridley Scott (Alien). (Author tour)

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1994
ISBN: 0-679-43094-6
Page count: 400pp
Publisher: Random House
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15th, 1994


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