Sunday, July 18, 2010

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I started reading Richard Preston's The Hot Zone before I left Odessa, and due to my move from west to east Texas, had to stop reading it to pack and all the other things involved with a move. I had a friend, Roche (pronounced Rocky), that recommended it to me while talking about it over pizza. I found a copy of it at one of the infamous Midland library sales that they used to have every year around the fall if memory serves. They were neat events that I looked forward to each year as you could buy a box of books for around five bucks or so, which was a real bargain. They also had vinyl records and other miscellaneous things too.

At any rate, I finally got around to reading The Hot Zone. The main draw for me were the blurbs on the back cover by Stephen King, who called it one of the most horrifying things he'd ever read, as did Arthur C. Clark. What's also interesting is that it's not fiction, but based on a true story and events. The book details the events that led up to an outbreak of Ebola virus in Washington D.C. in the 80's. He starts out by talking about the Aids virus which is a Biosafety Level 2 agent, that's not very infective--meaning it doesn't travel very well from person to person. Also Aids is not airborne, and you don't need a biological suit to handle the blood. One of the things I wondered about when Aids started to gain public awareness from the media was how or why did this virus surface now? Why haven't we heard of this virus occurring in the past? Some people automatically jumped on the conspiracy bandwagon and thought it was manufactured by the government. But after reading Preston's book, I can understand that the virus can remain dormant for years or eons in other animals: bugs, bats, etc. We're not even sure what the host is.

From there Preston goes on to detail how an average factory worker in Africa caught the Marburg virus on an outing one day in Africa, how it effected his health and eventual demise, how contagious it is, how it is spread, and the kill ratio of such a virus, which is one in four people who catch it, die from it. He also goes from there to discuss how Marburg is a virus known as the filoviruses, which is closely related to two types of more deadly viruses, Ebola Zaire and Ebola Sudan. The kill ratio with Ebola Zaire is nine out of ten--a slate wiper in humans, as Preston puts it.

Preston talks about an outbreak of the Ebola virus and how it spread thru one of the small townships in Africa, and how the Center for Disease Control went down there to help contain it. He gives a glimpse inside the CDC and government agencies, like USAMRIID, how they do research on these diseases, precautions they have to take to work in such an environment, how they develop a vaccine, etc. I found this fly on the wall aspect of his book really interesting. At any rate, I thought the book was a real pot boiler and made for perfect summer reading, albeit scary summer reading. Preston has another book, The Demon in the Freezer, on smallpox that I'd like to read.

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