By Chet Yarbrough
By Richard Preston
Narrated by Richard Davidson
The following video is a good summary of Richard Preston’s book, “The Hot Zone”, an examination of the wrath of nature.
A “hot zone” is a natural or man-made environment that breeds or contains a lethal infectious virus, or bacteria. (Defined in a medical dictionary:Epidemiology Hot area, a Biosafety Level 4 room or area in which trained personnel work with highly virulent infectious organisms—e.g., Ebola virus. Medspeak: A regionally popular term for a place—e.g., the emergency department—where diagnosing, assessing, and treating patients with a particular condition occurs.)
The most frightening aspect of “The Hot Zone” is the source and nature-of-transmission for these viral, snake-like microscopic killers.
The strains of Ebola and Marburg viruses evolve. Inter-species transmission and vectors of delivery seem to change with every outbreak. The source and transmission of these hot zone viruses is unknown; the consequence of the viruses vary from one in ten to nine in ten deaths.
The symptoms of an Ebola’ or Marburg’ infection are horrendous. Within 5 to 16 days of infection, the patient will have a fever, severe headache, chills, weakness, and a sore throat. Soon thereafter, nausea and vomiting, chest pain and cough, bleeding from the nose,mouth, rectum, eyes and ears. When one reaches the bleeding stage, death is near.
Listening to “The Hot Zone” reminds one of stories about mid-14th century plagues like the Black Death. Estimates of death from the Black Plague range from 100,000,000 to as much as half the world population.
Until the source of transmission, fleas carried by rodents, could be identified and controlled; over 1 in 5, to as high as 5 in 10 human beings living on earth, died from the disease.
A 5 in 10 mortality rate may be exceeded by Marburg or Ebola virus’ outbreaks but, so far, infections have been limited to relatively small population groups. “The Hot Zone” shows most of these small population groups were in Africa but Preston reports one in America, Reston, Virginia-a suburban community, west of Washington D.C. “The Hot Zone” creates sense-of-urgency in identifying the source and transmission characteristics of today’s potential world plagues.
In an April 2012 “Scientific American” report, written by Jennifer Frazer, bats may have been found as the original host for these “worm-like” viruses. These particular bats were found in a European cave.
Frazer notes that, though bats may be the original hosts, there is no evidence that the virus will jump directly from bat to human. Frazer’s article begs the question of how the virus is transmitted to simian hosts that infect humans.
However, “The Hot Zone” tells the story of a young boy that contracts the disease in an African’ cave filled with bats. (The young boy dies.) In “The Hot Zone”, Preston notes that biopsies of bats and analysis of bat guano in the cave show no presence of the virus. Maybe they missed the bat that somehow transmitted the virus to the young boy. Who knows? The mystery of transmission and danger of these two viruses remain unresolved.
A compelling argument raised by Preston’s history of Ebola and Marburg outbreaks is that humans are a threat to earth’s ecology and like any life threatening and invasive organism, the wrath of nature is modeling an offence, a virus, that will defend nature from destruction.