The Hot Zone

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For other uses, see Hot zone (disambiguation).
The Hot Zone
The Hot Zone (cover).jpg
Author Richard Preston
Country South Africa, United States
Language English
Publisher Anchor
Publication date
Media type Print (paperback and hardback) eBook and audiobook
Pages 420
ISBN 0-385-47956-5
OCLC 32052009
614.5/7 20
LC Class RC140.5 .P74 1995b

The Hot Zone: A Terrifying True Story is a best-selling[1] 1994 nonfiction thriller by Richard Preston about the origins and incidents involving viral hemorrhagic fevers, particularly ebolaviruses and marburgviruses. The basis of the book was Preston's 1992 New Yorker article "Crisis in the Hot Zone".[2]

The filoviruses Ebola virus (EBOV), Sudan virus (SUDV), Marburg virus (MARV), and Ravn virus (RAVV) are Biosafety Level 4 agents. Biosafety Level 4 agents are extremely dangerous to humans because they are very infectious, have a high case-fatality rate, and there are no known prophylactics, treatments, or cures. Along with describing the history of the diseases caused by these two Central African diseases, Ebola virus disease (EVD) and Marburg virus disease (MVD), Preston describes a 1989 incident in which a relative of Ebola virus named Reston virus (RESTV), was discovered at a primate quarantine facility in Reston, Virginia, less than fifteen miles (24 km) away from Washington, DC. The virus found at the facility was a mutated form of the original Ebola virus, and was initially mistaken for Simian Hemorrhagic Fever (SHV). The original Reston facility involved in the incident, located at 1946 Isaac Newton Square, was subsequently torn down sometime between 1995 and 1998.[3]


The book is in four sections:

  • "The Shadow of Mount Elgon" delves into the history of filoviruses, as well as speculation about the origins of AIDS. Preston accounts the story of "Charles Monet" (a pseudonym), who might have caught MARV from visiting Kitum Cave on Mount Elgon in Kenya. The author describes in great detail the progression of the disease, from the initial headache and backache, to the final stage in which Monet's internal organs fail and he "bleeds out" (i.e., hemorrhages extensively) in a waiting room in a Nairobi hospital. This part also introduces a young promising physician who becomes infected with MARV while treating Monet. Nancy Jaax's story is told. Viruses, and biosafety levels and procedures are described. The EVD outbreaks caused by EBOV and its cousin, Sudan virus (SUDV) are mentioned. Preston talks to the man who named Ebola virus.
  • "The Monkey House" chronicles the discovery of Reston virus among imported monkeys in Reston, Virginia, and the following actions taken by the U.S. Army and Centers for Disease Control.
  • "Smashdown" is more on the Reston epizootic, which involved a strain of the virus that does not affect humans but which easily spreads by air, and is very similar to its cousin the Ebola virus.
  • "Kitum Cave" tells of the author's visiting the cave that is the suspected home of the natural host animal that Ebola lives inside of.

The book starts with "Charles Monet" visiting Kitum Cave during a camping trip to Mount Elgon in Central Africa. Not long after, he begins to suffer from a number of symptoms, including vomiting, diarrhea and red eye. He is soon taken to Nairobi Hospital for treatment, but his condition deteriorates further and he goes into a coma while in the waiting room. This particular filovirus is called Marburg virus.

Dr. Nancy Jaax had been promoted to work in the Level 4 Biosafety containment area at USAMRIID, and is assigned to research Ebola virus. While preparing food for her family at home, she cuts her right hand. Later, while working on a dead, EBOV-infected monkey, one of the gloves on the hand with the open wound tears, and she is almost exposed to contaminated blood, but does not get infected. Nurse Mayinga is also infected by a nun and elects to visit Nairobi Hospital for treatment, where she succumbs to the disease.

In Reston, Virginia, less than fifteen miles (24 km) away from Washington, DC, a company called Hazelton Research once operated a quarantine center for monkeys that were destined for laboratories. In October 1989, when an unusually high number of their monkeys began to die, their veterinarian decided to send some samples to Fort Detrick (USAMRIID) for study. Early during the testing process in biosafety level 3, when one of the flasks appeared to be contaminated with harmless pseudomonas bacterium, two USAMRIID scientists exposed themselves to the virus by wafting the flask. They later determine that, while the virus is terrifyingly lethal to monkeys, humans can be infected with it without any health effects at all. This virus is now known as Reston virus (RESTV).

Finally, the author himself goes into Africa to explore Kitum Cave. On the way, he discusses the role of AIDS in the present, as the highway they were on, sometimes called the "AIDS Highway," or the "Kinshasa Highway" was where it first appeared. Equipped with a Hazmat suit, he enters the cave and finds a large number of animals, one of which might be the virus carrier. At the conclusion of the book, he travels to the quarantine facility in Reston. The building there was abandoned and deteriorating. He concludes the book by saying Ebola will be back.


In his blurb, horror writer Stephen King called the first chapter, "one of the most horrifying things I've read in my whole life."[4] When asked whether any book "scared the pants off you" television writer Suzanne Collins answered, "The Hot Zone, by Richard Preston. I just read it a few weeks ago. Still recovering."[5]

The Hot Zone has received criticism for sensationalizing the effects of Ebola virus. In their memoir Level 4: Virus Hunters of the CDC,[6] former CDC scientists Joseph B. McCormick and Susan Fisher-Hoch lambaste Preston for claiming that Ebola dissolves organs, stating that although it causes great blood loss in tissues the organs remain structurally intact. McCormick and Fisher-Hoch also dispute Preston's version of the CDC's actions in the Reston virus incident.


Failed film adaptation[edit]

In January 1993, 20th Century Fox and producer Lynda Obst won a bidding war for the film rights to Preston's 1992 New Yorker article, which was being transitioned into the book.[7] In response to being outbid, Warner Bros. producer Arnold Kopelson immediately began working on the similarly themed Outbreak, a competing film which would ultimately be a factor leading to the collapse of Crisis in The Hot Zone.[8]

Directors considered for the film adaptation included Wolfgang Petersen (who would later direct Outbreak), Michael Mann, and Ridley Scott. Scott eventually signed on to direct the film in February 1994.[9] Screenwriter Jame V. Hart was also signed to adapt the book. In late-April 1994, Fox announced they had signed Robert Redford and Jodie Foster to star in the film.[10] Filming on the $40 million film was scheduled to begin in July 1994.

However, this version would ultimately not be made. Foster dropped out of the film just before filming was to begin and production was delayed with Meryl Streep, Sharon Stone, and Robin Wright touted as possible replacements. In August 1994, Redford also dropped out of the film.[11] A few days following Redford's departure, it was announced that pre-production had been shut down.[12]

Television series[edit]

On October 16, 2014, announced that Ridley Scott again plans to adapt the book, this time as a television miniseries.[13] Lynda Obst will again produce the series, and I, Robot screenwriter Akiva Goldsman will adapt the screenplay from the book.[14]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ "Best Sellers: June 4, 1995". The New York Times Book Review (New York: The New York Times). 1995-06-04. Retrieved 2008-09-29. 
  2. ^ Preston, Richard (October 26, 1992). "Crisis in the Hot Zome". The New Yorker. Retrieved July 31, 2014. 
  3. ^ E.G. Bradshaw, Monkey House in Reston, Va
  4. ^ "About The Hot Zone". Random House. Retrieved 30 July 2014. 
  5. ^ Jordan, Tina (Aug 12, 2010). "Suzanne Collins on the books she loves". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved 30 July 2014. 
  6. ^ Level 4: Virus Hunters of the CDC. ISBN 978-0760712085. 
  7. ^ Eller, Claudia (January 24, 1993). "Fox, Obst contract virus pic". Variety. Retrieved March 1, 2015. 
  8. ^ O'Steen, Kathleen (February 13, 1994). "Virus pic fever infects Fox, WB". Variety. Retrieved March 1, 2015. 
  9. ^ "Ridley Scott has signed on to direct "Crisis in the Hot Zone"". Variety. February 14, 1994. Retrieved March 1, 2015. 
  10. ^ "Fox set the deals on "Crisis in the Hot Zone" for Robert Redford and Jodie Foster". Variety. May 2, 1994. Retrieved March 1, 2015. 
  11. ^ "Robert Redford has departed 20th Century Fox's "Crisis in the Hot Zone."". Variety. August 15, 1994. Retrieved March 1, 2015. 
  12. ^ ""Crisis" in the Not Zone". Variety. August 19, 1994. Retrieved March 1, 2015. 
  13. ^ Siegel, Tatiana (Oct 16, 2014). "Ebola TV Series in the Works From Lynda Obst, Ridley Scott (Exclusive)". Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 20 October 2014. 
  14. ^ Trendacosta, Katharine (Oct 16, 2014). "20 Years Too Late, Ridley Scott's Finally Adapting The Hot Zone". IO 9. Retrieved 20 October 2014. 


  • Moeller, Susan D. (August 1999). Compassion Fatigue: How the Media Sell Disease, Famine, War and Death (1 ed.). New York: Routledge. p. 82. ISBN 978-0-415-92098-8. 

Further reading

  • Preston, Richard (1995-07-20) [1994]. The Hot Zone, A Terrifying True Story. Anchor Books (Random House), Sagebrush Education Resources, Tandem Library Books. ISBN 0-385-47956-5. 

External links[edit]