The Hot Zone

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Kinshasa Highway Symbol Analysis

Kinshasa Highway Symbol Icon
Kinshasa Highway, which spans the width of the continent of Africa, symbolizes the dangers of globalization and innovation. Paved in the 1970s, the increased traffic on that road greatly facilitated and sped up the spread of HIV/AIDS. In fact, Preston goes so far as to rename Kinshasa Highway “AIDS Highway” for the large role that it played in the disease’s destructive toll on the human race. To Preston, Kinshasa Highway emblemizes an innovation that appeared useful and groundbreaking at the time, but ended up causing destruction and death as it helped the spread of a deadly virus. He uses Kinshasa Highway as a warning for his readers, meaning for us to understand that other elements of our modern world could easily be turned against us by ancient viruses.

Kinshasa Highway Quotes in The Hot Zone

The The Hot Zone quotes below all refer to the symbol of Kinshasa Highway. 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 3 Quotes

When you begin probing into the origins of AIDS and Marburg, light fails and things go dark, but you sense hidden connections. Both viruses seem part of a pattern.

Related Characters: Richard Preston (speaker)
Related Symbols: Kinshasa Highway
Page Number: 34
Explanation and Analysis:

As he often does within the book, Preston here compares the Ebola family of viruses with HIV/AIDS. The major difference, of course, is that AIDS has become a worldwide pandemic, while Ebola is (at least for now) confined to certain parts of the African continent. The "pattern" to which Preston refers is the increase of viruses that originate in animals, such as Ebola, HIV, swine flu, and Zika making their way towards infecting the human race.

Preston implies frequently throughout the book that this upswing in such viruses has to do with human globalization, and our increased encroachment on the natural environment. He believes that as humans continue to populate the globe, such outbreaks and pandemics will become more and more frequent. These diseases will only be aided by modern conveniences such as planes and trains, which make it even easier for diseases to spread quickly across continents.

The "pattern" that Preston describes is a foreboding one, especially if you believe, as he does, that it is going to occur more and more frequently in the years to come. This belief sits at the center of The Hot Zone, and is responsible for the book's continued relevance long after its publication. 

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Part 4, Chapter 1 Quotes

The paving of Kinshasa Highway affected every person on earth, and turned out to be one of the most important events of the twentieth century. It has already cost at least ten million lives, with the likelihood that the ultimate number of human casualties will vastly exceed the deaths in the Second World War. In effect, I had witnessed a crucial event in the emergence of AIDS, the transformation of a thread of dirt into a ribbon of tar.

Related Characters: Richard Preston (speaker)
Related Symbols: Kinshasa Highway
Page Number: 287
Explanation and Analysis:

As he travels to Mount Elgon, Richard Preston describes his childhood, some of which he spent near the construction of the Kinshasa Highway, which ended up spreading HIV/AIDS throughout many African nations because of the ease of travel—and thus of disease transmission—that it allowed. By telling the story of the Kinshasa Highway, Preston hopes to show that human progress can often have unintended consequences. Although the highway was supposed to be a source of trade, convenience, and modernity, it in fact provided a quick and easy way for HIV/AIDS to expand its range.

Preston puts the story of Kinshasa Highway in dramatic terms, saying that the highway has "already cost at least ten million lives" and calling its paving a vital twentieth-century event. He wants his readers to understand how easily and yet unpredictably humans can cause destruction, especially when viruses are involved. Preston's message is clear: the fact that HIV/AIDS spread so quickly and easily means that Ebola could one day do the same. 

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Kinshasa Highway Symbol Timeline in The Hot Zone

The timeline below shows where the symbol Kinshasa Highway appears in The Hot Zone. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Part 1, Chapter 1: Something in the Forest
The Power of Nature Theme Icon
Human Error and Fragility Theme Icon
Globalization Theme Icon
...began to infect humans. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, AIDS spread along the Kinshasa Highway , a new road that spans much of the width of Africa. HIV, Preston explains,... (full context)
Part 4, Chapter 1: Highway
The Power of Nature Theme Icon
Human Error and Fragility Theme Icon
Globalization Theme Icon
Innovation and Curiosity vs. Hubris  Theme Icon
...Rift valley. He adds that the road “is a segment of the AIDS highway, the Kinshasa Highway ,” a trans-African road along which HIV traveled when it first began to break out.... (full context)
The Power of Nature Theme Icon
Human Error and Fragility Theme Icon
Globalization Theme Icon
Innovation and Curiosity vs. Hubris  Theme Icon
...the disease takes years to kill its human hosts. Preston connects the paving of the Kinshasa Highway with the spread of the disease, explaining that when he was young, the road was... (full context)