Panic in Level 4

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  • Edition: Reprint
  • Format: Trade Paper
  • Copyright: 2009-06-16
  • Publisher: Random House Trade Paperbacks
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Panic in Level 4is a grand tour through the eerie and unforgettable universe of Richard Preston, filled with incredible characters and mysteries that refuse to leave one's mind. Here are dramatic true stories from this acclaimed and award-winning author, including the phenomenon of "self-cannibals," who suffer from a rare genetic condition caused by one wrong letter in their DNA that forces them to compulsively chew their own fleshand why everyone may have a touch of this disease the search for the unknown host of Ebola virus, an organism hidden somewhere in African rain forests, where the disease finds its way into the human species, causing outbreaks of unparalleled horror the brilliant Russian brothers"one mathematician divided between two bodies"who built a supercomputer in their apartment from mail-order parts in an attempt to find hidden order in the number pi () In exhilarating detail, Preston portrays the frightening forces and constructive discoveries that are currently roiling and reordering our world, once again proving himself a master of the nonfiction narrative.

Author Biography

Richard Preston is the bestselling author of The Hot Zone, The Demon in the Freezer, The Wild Trees, and the novel The Cobra Event. A writer for The New Yorker since 1985, Preston is the only nondoctor to have received the Centers for Disease Control’s Champion of Prevention Award. He also holds an award from the American Institute of Physics. Preston lives outside of New York City.

From the Hardcover edition.


PANIC IN LEVEL 4 by Richard Preston

INTRODUCTION- Adventures in Nonfiction Writing

Oliver Heaviside, the English mathematician and physicist, once
said, “In order to know soup, it is not necessary to climb into a pot and
be boiled.” Unfortunately, this statement is not true for journalists. As
a writer of what’s called “literary nonfiction” or “creative nonfiction”–
narrative that is said to read like a novel but is factually verifiable–
it has often been my practice to climb into the soup. Getting
boiled with your characters is a good way to get to know them, but it
has occasionally led me into frightening situations.

Some years ago, while I was researchingThe Hot Zone,a book that
focuses on the Ebola virus, I may have had a meeting with an unknown
strain of Ebola. (A virus is an exceedingly small life-form, an infectious
parasite that replicates inside living cells, using the cell’s own machinery
to make more copies of itself.)

Ebola has now been classified into seven different known types.
Though it has been studied for more than thirty years, Ebola is one of
the least-understood viruses in nature. Scientists have been understandably
reluctant to study Ebola too closely because it has on occasion
killed those who tried to do so. The virus was first was noticed in
1976, when it surfaced in Yambuku, Zaire (now the Democratic Republic
of Congo), near the Ebola River, where it sacked a Catholic
mission hospital, killing most of the medical staff along with a number
of patients and people the patients had came into contact with. Ebola
spreads from one person to the next by direct contact with blood or secretions,
including sweat. There is no evidence that it can spread
among humans through the air, although there is some evidence that
it may spread among monkeys this way. As a parasite, Ebola carries on
its life cycle in some unidentified type of animal–Ebola’s natural
host–that lives in certain unidentified habitats in equatorial Africa.
Occasionally Ebola comes into contact with a person, and the virus
makes what is known as a trans-species jump from its host into the
human species.

When Ebola gets inside a human host, it causes the person’s immune
system to vanish, and the person dies with hemorrhages coming
from the body’s orifices. The most lethal strains of Ebola have been
known to kill up to 95 percent of people who become infected with it.
Ebola causes people to vomit masses of black blood with a distinctive
“coffee grounds” appearance. Victims can have a bright red nosebleed,
or epistaxis; it won’t stop. A spotty, bumpy rash spreads over the body,
while small, starlike hemorrhages appear beneath the skin. An Ebola
patient can have blood standing in droplets on the eyelids and running
from the tear ducts down the face. Blood can flow from the nose,
mouth, vagina, rectum. The testicles can become infected with Ebola
and can swell up or be destroyed. Victims display signs of psychosis.
They can develop endless hiccups. Rarely, in particularly severe cases of
Ebola, the linings of the intestines and rectum may come off. Those
membranes may be expelled through the anus in raglike pieces called
casts, or the intestinal lining can emerge in the form of a sleeve, like a
sock. When an Ebola patient expels a sleeve, it is known as throwing a
tubular cast.

Some of the action inThe Hot Zonetakes place at Fort Detrick, an
Army base in the rolling country along the eastern flank of the Appalachian
Mountains in Maryland, an hour’s drive northwest of Washington,
D.C. The Army’s Level 4 virus laboratories at Fort Detrick are
clustered inside a large, nearly windowless building that sits near the

Excerpted from Panic in Level 4: Cannibals, Killer Viruses, and Other Journeys to the Edge of Science by Richard Preston
All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

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