Viruses and diseases can play an important role in maintaining evolutionary order. Although it is difficult to imagine a worldwide epidemic that could thin out the human species, it has already occurred many times in recorded history. Richard Preston first published an article titled “Crisis in the Hot Zone,” which talks about the outbreak of a mutated strain of the Ebola virus that appeared in the U.S in the winter of 1989. Later, he wrote The Hot Zone, which is based on on the article.
The section “The Shadow of Mount Elgon” begins with the description of the history of viruses, and the outbreak of Ebola virus and also the Marburg virus. It first introduces Charles Monet, a Frenchman who lives in Mount Elgon in Western Kenya in 1979. He goes with his lover during winter holiday for a camping trip to the national park in his city and explores Kitum Cave, a tourist site. After the trip to Kitum Cave, Monet develops a headache. Three days later he starts vomiting. He is so very sick that his housekeeper fears he will turn into a zombie. Preston uses personification as a way to describe the disease rather than describing its symptoms in clinical terms. He writes, “Having destroyed its host, the hot agent is now coming out of every orifice, and is ‘trying’ to find a new host.” This helps transform the nonfictional work into a dramatic narrative because the disease is actively engaging in the destruction of Monet’s personality and not just his physical body. Over the course of the book, the author frequently changes narrative point of view. Why is that?
Dr. Shem Musoke tries to treat Monet but Monet’s vomit cause Dr. Musoke to become sick. The virus then spreads out and infects different people. Dr. Musoke was infected because of his concern for his patient, and the workers are also infected because they work in a factory that makes vaccines. They are infected with the virus for their action of aid of others. The act of selflessness is dangerous because diseases spread because of humans’ negligence. Chance plays a significant role in determining how a virus is spread. The virus hits indiscriminately regardless of age, personality, or sex. Although a disease’s spread can be attributed to chance, the outbreak of viruses can also be caused by laziness. Is the disease spreading because of the act of selflessness, chance, or both?
“People performed all kinds of small rituals before they walked through that steel door. Some people crossed themselves. Others carried amulets or charms inside their space suits, even though it was technically against the rules to bring anything inside the suit except your body and the surgical scrubs. They hoped the amulets might help ward off the hot agent if there was a major break in the suit” (74).
Four years after Charles Monet’s death the narrative shifts to a Victorian house in Maryland. Major Nancy Jaax is a married female working in the U.S Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Disease in Biosafety level 4 hot agents. She is working on an Ebola experiment. The narrative perspective here switches to Nancy’s inner monologue. Preston refers to the issue of sexism by showing how Nancy faces discrimination at the institute because of being a woman in the science field. Why didn’t Nancy get infected with the virus? What is Preston trying to say?
Finally, it is ironic that human beings develop viruses just to later develop cures and vaccines for them. We are constantly striving for new technologies even if it means potential annihilation of the human kind. Biological warfare is one of the reasons for that. However, these kinds of warfare can easily backfire since they cannot be controlled. In what ways does technology hinder our growth as human kind? And moreover, what role does greed play in the spread of contagion? Are our governments obliged to control that kind of greed?
– Noora, Odera, Dayin, Nada