Thoughts on "The Hot Zone" by Richard Preston

The Hot Zone was more than a work of nonfiction on viruses; it was a warning of nature’s more macabre abilities. The Ebola and Marburg viruses are tiny, deadly, and virtually unheard of by the general public and have ghastly effects on primates-including humans. With descriptions that result in many sleepless nights, as well as a fear of nature, Preston details and hypothesizes about the known and unknown of the filoviruses. He tells the enthralling story of humanity’s close calls with the fatal viruses in Africa and the U.S.; and warns us of how contagious, painful, and merciless they are.

Nature striking back in retaliation against the human race is something that is not written much about. It was therefore rather shocking to be presented with the deadly Marburg and Ebola viruses. Preston described one of nature’s more morbid organisms-and their equally grotesque attack on life forms with striking detail. How did these viruses come up or become a part of nature? What purpose do they have, but to destroy all which they invade? They are neither alive nor dead, but parasites and consumers of the living. They produce nothing. So for what purpose did nature develop such a poisonous microorganism?

The human race has had a colossal toll on nature’s most intricate ecosystems. That nature would not react to the human invasion is a foolish assumption to make. We have been slowly chocking the environment around us, destroying bionetworks and simultaneously creating poisons and toxins that were not there before. Preston says, “The emergence of AIDS, Ebola, and…other rain-forest agents appears to be a natural consequence of the ruining of the tropical biosphere.”(p. 405). Mostly, this is quite apparent: the areas of the planet which are being destroyed the fastest also contain the highest percentage of life. Viruses are in all living things. Killing their habitat kills those organisms, but not the viruses; viruses are not alive, so viruses DO NOT DIE.

So where did these viruses come from? They already existed within the wild and native organisms of the biosphere. The human-meddling in the remote rainforests has put humans in contact with animals they naturally would not have been exposed to, putting themselves at risk of something new their bodies would not be immune to. Is nature developing a defense against the human pestilence, like Preston claims, or are we, in our rapacity, walking blindly into calamity? Is nature setting up viruses in the forests the way we would set up mousetraps in our homes, knowing that we should not be there in the first place? Is nature that evil, or is it a reasonable defense mechanism?

A more important question: how likely is an outbreak-and how disastrous would it be to humankind? Starting with one tiny particle of the Ebola agent, the virus can replicate itself so quickly; it would infect the person’s whole body rapidly, killing it. The gory death would cause it to spread through contact with infected tissue. It just takes one particle. The world is a complicated network, connected not only via the virtual Internet but also physically by the many airports and roads around the globe. All that is necessary is for that single infected person to get to an airport. But Monet and Mayinga placed themselves in contact with people in crowded situations, and nothing happened. Sure, Monet infected Musoke when he vomited on him, but it was contained, and no outbreak ensued. Musoke, surprisingly, survived. It is not like an outbreak is impossible; the threat is quite real. We have been lucky thus far. However, we cannot rely on that luck: humans need to stop tampering with the biosphere like our species is immortal and impervious.

The Ebola and Marburg viruses are virtually unknown to the general public. Whereas the human population has had a flood of information on the HIV virus in the recent years since it has erupted, the filoviruses has received little attention. The average person can tell you symptoms of AIDS and have a rough idea of what it is, but looks at you clueless when you mention Ebola. And Ebola is far more lethal. It is a wonder the human race has not been extinct yet. We are walking around as usual while tiny predators are waiting to attack and feast upon us. When it happens, we will not even know what hit us. A gruesome nightmare will go off, bloody and horrific; the stuff for rated-R Hollywood horror movies. And maybe Nature will finally be able to rest.





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