The 5 Most Terrifying Things We Learned About Ebola From 'The Hot Zone'

What the famous book taught us about Ebola and Marburg.

ByABC News
July 31, 2014, 12:39 PM

— -- When Richard Preston's novel "The Hot Zone" was published in 1995, it was, for many, their first introduction to the deadly Ebola and Marburg viruses.

Nearly two decades later, Ebola has infected hundreds of people in three countries across West Africa, in what is considered the worst outbreak in history. As fear over the deadly virus grows, here's a reminder of what we learned so long ago from Preston:

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1. It Starts With Headaches

Sometimes, a headache is just a headache. Sometimes, as it plays out in Preston's horrifying book, it's more -- and that's what's so scary.

The author describes patients who experience headaches and backaches that evolve into violent vomiting and bloody eyes, until their organs fail and they die from hemorrhaging.

One character, Charles Monet, who contracted the Ebola-like Marburg virus, "bled out" in the waiting room at a Niarobi hospital. Days earlier, he had taken aspirin in a failed attempt to soothe his throbbing temples.

PHOTO: The Hot Zone by Richard Preston.
The Hot Zone by Richard Preston.

2. An Airplane Ride Can Trigger An Epidemic

Preston points out in the book how the virus is always just a plane ride away from any city in the world. And that's how it spread in the case of Charles Monet.

When doctors confused about his illness put him on a plane to Nairobi, they had no idea that he was spreading a virus.

The scene is hard for anyone who has read the novel to forget: Monet violently vomits red and black liquid, making the plane smell "like a slaughterhouse." His facial skin hangs from the bone, his nose bleeds and his eyes are "the color of rubies."

Terrified passengers were surrounded by his bodily fluids, which carried the virus. By the time he reaches the hospital, he's all but gone.

3. It Kills You From the Inside

In the book, Monet's autopsy reveals that his kidneys were destroyed and his liver had stopped working days earlier. His body resembled a days-old cadaver, even though he had just died.

PHOTO: Medical personnel inside a clinic taking care of Ebola patients in Kenema, Sierra Leone, July 27, 2014.
Medical personnel inside a clinic taking care of Ebola patients in Kenema, Sierra Leone, July 27, 2014.

4. Ebola Virus Was Found in Virginia in 1989

Part of Preston's novel follows two veterinarians trying to find out what keeps killing monkeys housed in a primate center in Reston, Virginia. It turns out to be Ebola - the first time the virus has ever been in the United States.

5. The Virus Can Make You Psychotic

In Africa in the late 1970s, doctors noticed Ebola victims were experiencing signs of mental derangement before they died -- psychosis, depersonalization, even "zombie-like behavior," Preston wrote.

Some infected patients ran out of a hospital in Maridi, South Sudan naked and bleeding, trying to find their homes and seemingly unaware of what was happening.