I spent the day yesterday, unexpectedly, in the emergency room at a nearby hospital. (Everybody’s OK now, but emergency rooms take t–i–m–e.) Of course, I had to take some reading material along, and I chose a book I’ve been meaning to read for a long time: The Hot Zone by Richard Preston. The book is a nonfiction thriller about an outbreak of Ebola virus in suburban Washington, D.C. Did I mention that it’s NONfiction?
As I read about Ebola, maybe the nastiest virus yet discovered, and about how 60-90% of people infected by the virus don’t survive, and about a hospital in Africa that was literally wiped out by an outbreak of Ebola virus, I was sitting in the emergency room listening to a baby crying and people groaning, and I was wondering what kinds of germs, bacteria, and nasty viruses were floating around in the air. The emergency room nurse saw what I was reading and reassured me that “most of those hemorrhagic fevers stay in Africa or Asia, hardly ever here in the U.S.” Since I was reading, at that very minute, about how monkeys from the Philippines carried Ebola to Reston, Virginia in 1989, I was not convinced that the danger was as minimal as the nurse seemed to think. In other words, “hardly ever” isn’t good enough. Do we really need to import thousands of monkeys into the U.S. each year for medical research, anyway? Can’t the researchers go to the monkeys, if it’s really necessary?
Philosophical and practical questions aside, The Hot Zone is well-written, informative, exciting, and scary. The book was best-seller back when it was first published over ten years ago (1994). So some of you have probably read it. If you haven’t and you’re looking for a plot device for your terrorist thriller or apocalyptic dystopian novel, you could probably find it in this book. I can only imagine what that emergency room would look like if one of the viruses in this book managed to get loose in Houston. A long wait would be the least of our worries.