Ebola virus is back, and as scary as ever. In 1976, the first Ebola outbreak – the subject of Richard Preston’s terrifying non-fiction thriller The Hot Zone – claimed 431 lives in Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo. The 2014 outbreak has already killed over 600 people in the West African countries of Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone despite an international effort to contain the virus. This most recent outbreak is a reminder that Preston couldn’t have picked a more harrowing topic: one of the virus’s trademark symptoms is coagulopathy, a condition in which the blood’s ability to clot is impaired. In extreme cases, Ebola victims can bleed to death from the inside as gastrointestinal tissues break down and dissolve.
According to the World Health Organization, the disease is transmitted to humans through contact with infected fruit bats, chimpanzees, gorillas, antelope, and porcupines, and between humans when a healthy person makes contact with the disease through broken skin or mucous membranes. The virus is highly contagious, “stands out for its impressive lethality” (Journal of Infectious Diseases), and there is no vaccine and no known cure. As Richard Preston knows: you can’t make this stuff up.