Horror helps to learn Biology.

Nightmares with viruses

if you are horror movie fan, this really is your worst nightmare; zombies have nothing compared to this tiny virus.

“The Hot Zone” traces back to real events surrounding the outbreak of Ebola virus. I have never been more scared of the devastating effect of such dangerous, destructive and highly contagious pathogen described as “slate wiper.”

This book has a horrifying and fascinating look at an almost biological disaster on US soil. The first chapter alone gave me goosebumps. Preston introduced an early human known to have Ebola – Monet, a French man living in Africa – describing what Ebola did to him  and its other victims leading to a close down a major Hospital.

“Ebola does things to people that you do not want to think about. The organism is too frightening to handle, even for those who are comfortable and adept in bio-hazard suits. Many do not care to do research on Ebola because they do not want Ebola to do research on them.” – Chapter 5, pg. 45

I was in Tokyo at the time I started reading this book without any knowledge that a month later I’d be infected with varicella-zoster virus (chickenpox) so probably not the best thing to read when you are sick yet I kept reading because this book taught me science using fear and reality!!

I kept a notebook to my side to write down things I found biologically interesting or didn’t want to forget, for example:

When a hot virus multiplies in a host it can saturate the body, brain to skin. This is called extreme amplification. During this process, the body is transformed into virus particles.
The host is possessed by a life form that is attempting to
convert the host into itself. 

Before and after my incubation period I had to take breaks from reading it and
it took me some time to finish it. Chilling is an understatement, I lost count of the times I had to hold my breath, cringed squirmed and literally walked away from reading for a breath of fresh air.

The description of what Ebola does the body is horrifying “The skin bubbles up into a sea of tiny white blister mixed with red spots known as a maculopapular rash. These rashes have been likened to tapioca pudding.” Mmm, ~~ that is not even gross compared to the rest of the bloody description.

Under a microscope,  most virus looks like ball-shaped but a filovirus looks like strands or tangled ropes, its shape it’s not the only interesting thing to the scientific community but its different characteristics that we know of:

  • Marburg  (filovirus)  resembles rabies’ symptoms and has the power to destroy the brain. This is the mildest type of Ebola and there are survivors.
  • Ebola Zaire (filovirus) This is the worst of its kind having a kill rate of 9/10. Zaire is kept at a biosafety level (BSL) 4. Within the book, you’ll immerse yourself into BSL 4 and as a good scientist don’t forget to take your chemical shower for decontamination 😉

Most of the scientific community wants to stay away from BSL 4. Richard Preston introduces us to a curious female American scientist wanted to research Ebola. I admired her determination but it was also difficult for her family and children to accept the risks and how Ebola changed her life.

“The Hot Zone” takes you into an extremely vivid world of death and science,  I learned many things about biology and humanity.

Despite long focus researchers, no one has never been able to identify the source of the viruses ~ in the end, viruses are merely understood and can never be controlled yet nature has mysterious ways of balancing itself.

If you want to have nightmares about viruses, this book is for you.