The Hot Zone

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Dr. Karl Johnson Character Analysis

Another co-discoverer of the Ebola virus along with Dr. Frederick Murphy, Johnson was a virus hunter who ran the Special Pathogens Branch of the CDC. He also helped research and combat the virus when it appeared in Zaire and Sudan, heading up a team of doctors from the World Health Organization. He is a famous figure in the world of virus hunting, and has discovered some of the most dangerous diseases on the planet. Unlike many other researchers, he finds Ebola beautiful as well as terrifying, and even speculates that a virus wiping out most of the human race might not be an altogether negative thing.

Dr. Karl Johnson Quotes in The Hot Zone

The The Hot Zone quotes below are all either spoken by Dr. Karl Johnson or refer to Dr. Karl Johnson. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
The Power of Nature Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Anchor Books edition of The Hot Zone published in 1999.
Part 1, Chapter 7 Quotes

Mr. Preston: Unless you include the feeling generated by gazing into the eyes of a waving confrontational cobra, “fascination” is not what I feel about Ebola. How about shit scared?

Related Characters: Dr. Karl Johnson (speaker), Richard Preston
Page Number: 90
Explanation and Analysis:

Richard Preston seeks out Dr. Karl Johnson, one of the leading experts in Ebola. A virus hunter for the CDC during the Ebola outbreak in Zaire, Johnson was the first scientist to isolate an Ebola virus particle, and thus earned the right to name the disease. Now retired, he writes to Preston to explain his feelings about Ebola, describing himself as “shit scared” of the virus. It is also fascinating, however, that he describes Ebola as a “confrontational cobra.”

Although Ebola is not a thinking predator the way a cobra is, it does seem to have the same menacing quality for all who come across it. At the same time, scientists and journalists (such as Preston) alike seem entranced by the disease, even sometimes describing it as beautiful—in this way, we are like prey being hypnotized by a predator such as a cobra. Although Johnson may not have meant to, he has helped to explain why so many are drawn to study the disease, and why Preston himself feels compelled to write about it.

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Dr. Karl Johnson Character Timeline in The Hot Zone

The timeline below shows where the character Dr. Karl Johnson appears in The Hot Zone. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Part 1, Chapter 7: Ebola River
The Power of Nature Theme Icon
Human Error and Fragility Theme Icon
Globalization Theme Icon
Innovation and Curiosity vs. Hubris  Theme Icon
Bravery and Teamwork Theme Icon
...this effort is called the Special Pathogens Branch, and in 1976, it was run by Dr. Karl M. Johnson , a virus hunter who had spent many years researching in Central and South America.... (full context)
The Power of Nature Theme Icon
Human Error and Fragility Theme Icon
Globalization Theme Icon
Innovation and Curiosity vs. Hubris  Theme Icon
Bravery and Teamwork Theme Icon
...box was “sticky with blood.” The virologist in charge, Patricia Webb (who was married to Karl Johnson at the time), put on gloves to handle the blood and managed to collect a... (full context)
The Power of Nature Theme Icon
Human Error and Fragility Theme Icon
Innovation and Curiosity vs. Hubris  Theme Icon
Bravery and Teamwork Theme Icon
Karl Johnson is now a fly-fishing aficionado in Montana, who does a great deal of consulting work... (full context)
Globalization Theme Icon
Bravery and Teamwork Theme Icon
Two days after discovering Ebola, Karl Johnson headed to Africa with two other C.D.C. doctors in an effort to stop the virus... (full context)
The Power of Nature Theme Icon
Human Error and Fragility Theme Icon
Globalization Theme Icon
Innovation and Curiosity vs. Hubris  Theme Icon
Preston visits Karl Johnson and the two go fly-fishing together. Johnson discusses his trip to Kinshasa, and the panic... (full context)
The Power of Nature Theme Icon
Human Error and Fragility Theme Icon
Globalization Theme Icon
Innovation and Curiosity vs. Hubris  Theme Icon
Bravery and Teamwork Theme Icon
A C.D.C. doctor named Joel Breman, who had come with Karl Johnson to Zaire, was tasked with travelling to the Bumba Zone, along with a team from... (full context)
The Power of Nature Theme Icon
Human Error and Fragility Theme Icon
Globalization Theme Icon
Innovation and Curiosity vs. Hubris  Theme Icon
Bravery and Teamwork Theme Icon
...had already peaked, and that it had begun at the hospital. He tried to contact Karl Johnson , but was unable to. Eventually they traveled back to the edge of the Bumba... (full context)
The Power of Nature Theme Icon
Human Error and Fragility Theme Icon
Globalization Theme Icon
Bravery and Teamwork Theme Icon
...thirty-seven people who had encountered Mayinga while she was infected, and quarantined all of them. Karl Johnson , meanwhile, had heard nothing from the doctors in Bumba, and assumed that they were... (full context)