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Crisis in the Red Zone

The Story of the Deadliest Ebola Outbreak in History, and of the Outbreaks to Come

By Richard Preston
16-minute read
Audio available
Crisis in the Red Zone: The Story of the Deadliest Ebola Outbreak in History, and of the Outbreaks to Come by Richard Preston

Crisis in the Red Zone (2019) presents an engrossing account from the front lines of the 2014 Ebola outbreak in West Africa. From the first infected patient through the many lives claimed before the crisis was resolved, this is a tragic and hopeful story of what happens when a hidden and dangerous virus reveals itself.

  • Anyone curious about the Ebola virus
  • Those interested in epidemiology and virology
  • Fans of real-life heroism and sacrifice

Richard Preston is an award-winning author who has taught nonfiction writing at both the University of Iowa and Princeton University. His previous books include The Hot Zone (1994), The Wild Trees (2007) and The Demon in the Freezer (2007).

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Crisis in the Red Zone

The Story of the Deadliest Ebola Outbreak in History, and of the Outbreaks to Come

By Richard Preston
  • Read in 16 minutes
  • Audio & text available
  • Contains 10 key ideas
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Crisis in the Red Zone: The Story of the Deadliest Ebola Outbreak in History, and of the Outbreaks to Come by Richard Preston
Synopsis

Crisis in the Red Zone (2019) presents an engrossing account from the front lines of the 2014 Ebola outbreak in West Africa. From the first infected patient through the many lives claimed before the crisis was resolved, this is a tragic and hopeful story of what happens when a hidden and dangerous virus reveals itself.

Key idea 1 of 10

The Ebola virus first emerged in Zaire, Africa in 1976.

On September 9, 1976, a pregnant woman named Sembo Ndobe arrived at the Yambuku Catholic Mission Hospital in Zaire, Africa – now the Democratic Republic of the Congo. One of the nurses, Sister Beata, began to help the woman. She immediately saw that the woman was experiencing troubling symptoms, including a fever, inflamed eyes and bleeding gums.

Sister Beata believed that Ms. Ndobe had a form of malaria or a disease known as blackwater fever. While delivering her patient’s child, Sister Beata did what she always did – she used her bare hands. 

But this was no typical delivery. Ms. Ndobe was hemorrhaging blood from her birth canal, and the bleeding only worsened once Sister Beata removed her stillborn child. Ms. Ndobe died that day from blood loss and shock. This was not unusual – many women in Africa died from hemorrhage during childbirth.

Five days later, however, Sister Beata began to feel extremely sick. First, she experienced fatigue and fever. This was soon followed by vomiting, diarrhea and severe pain that moved from her abdomen to her spine. Eventually, Sister Beata was projectile vomiting and there was blood in it. Before long, her vomit went from red to black. Her stool was also turning black. She was hemorrhaging blood, and her insides were decomposing.

On September 19, Father Sango Germain, Sister Beata’s friend and colleague, came to her bedside to deliver her last rites. By this time, a rash had developed across Sister Beata’s torso, and her face was expressionless and mask-like. Her eyes were red and inflamed. As Father Germain prayed, Sister Beata began to cry, causing Father Germain to cry as well.

After touching Sister Beata’s forehead and hands with the sign of the cross, Father Germain wiped his friend’s bloody tears away with the same cloth he used to wipe his own tears. Sister Beata soon died. Father Germain died 13 days later.

Before long, the Yambuku Catholic Mission Hospital was filled with patients suffering from the same symptoms as Sister Beata. Nurses began to leave, fearful of this unholy disease. But one nurse did manage to call for help.

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