In September 1987, Gene Johnson receives a mysterious package from Kenya containing blood from a 10-year-old Danish boy named Peter Cardinal. As Johnson drives to USAMRIID, he doubts there will be anything interesting in the boy’s blood, but decides to analyze it anyway, despite the fact that it will take him much of the night to do so. He proceeds to the Ebola suite, places the serum in an airtight container, and puts on gloves in order to begin his work.
Globalization once again takes a prominent place in the narrative, as the American Gene Johnson receives a package from Kenya containing a Danish boy’s blood. This passage also showcases Gene’s dedication, and his preoccupation with researching and fighting against the virus that obsesses him.
Preston gives us background on the Cardinal family, which had recently taken a vacation in Kenya. During the trip, Peter fell ill (the first symptom was red eyes), and the doctors diagnosed him with malaria. His mother, however, was unconvinced, and demanded that he be evacuated to Nairobi hospital, where Dr. David Silverstein cared for him.
Like the Jaaxes, the Cardinals are a normal family—until their lives are torn apart by Ebola/Marburg. Once again we see the human cost of this disease, as a little boy dies in front of his family from a hot virus that nobody can combat.
Preston meets David Silverstein in a coffee shop to learn more about Peter Cardinal. Silverstein describes an alert, fit 10-year-old, who appeared to have pneumonia. Soon afterward he began to turn blue, and his skin became spotted with red dots. Dr. Silverstein began to worry that the child had Marburg, and ordered his team to take precautions. Soon after, the boy was put on a respirator. Next his skin began to bruise and his pupils to dilate, indicating that his brain was bleeding. His skin began to puff up, meaning that there was bleeding underneath it as well. Cardinal died shortly afterwards, having bled out internally.
Despite youth, strength, and excellent medical care, Peter Cardinal is doomed from the moment that he contracts Marburg virus. Preston’s description of his symptoms and death illustrates the many different avenues through which Ebola can attack the body, and the complete inability on the part of both doctors and the human immune system to fight it.
Preston compares hot viruses to predators, describing the moment when a lion attacks a zebra on the savanna. He comments upon the “immense antiquity” of these kinds of lethal viruses, and reminds us that they are far older than we humans are.
Preston makes explicit the analogy between the Ebola/Marburg virus and a predator in the wild, a rhetorical device that illustrates both Ebola’s ancient heritage and its ruthless lack of concern for what it attacks.
Peter Cardinal’s parents and sister watched as he lay in agony. Eventually his brain activity flatlined, and Dr. David Silverstein advised them to turn off the respirator that was keeping their son alive, telling them that there was nothing anyone could have done to save him.
Despite Dr. Silverstein’s having treated Marburg before in Dr. Musoke, there is nothing he can do to fight against it—in such a situation, doctors can only make their patients comfortable and try to avoid getting the virus themselves.
Back in USAMRIID, Gene Johnson puts Peter Cardinal’s blood into a vial full of monkey cells in order to observe its effect on them. In the days afterwards, Johnson watches as the monkey cells burst and die. Next he uses the fluid to infect three monkeys, and two die quickly. After they succumb, Johnson infects guinea pigs, which also die soon after. Its extreme lethalness towards humans, monkeys, and guinea pigs means that it can jump across species to infect them. Johnson becomes obsessed with finding out where Peter became infected, and phones a friend named Dr. Peter Tukei, a scientist at the Kenya Medical Research Institute, who offers to locate and interview Peter’s parents. A week later, he has news: the family had traveled to Kitum Cave. New questions spring up in Johnson’s mind: if Charles Monet and Peter Cardinal both traveled to Kitum Cave before their deaths, then clearly the virus lurks somewhere within the cave.
This passage reveals the true significance of Kitum Cave: as the only shared geographical point in the travels of Charles Monet and Peter Cardinal, there is a huge likelihood that this cave contains the host of the Marburg virus. Considering the extreme mystery that enshrouds the origins of such hot viruses—and the danger that can spring from this kind of mystery—finding that host would be a huge victory for a virus hunter like Gene Johnson. Kitum Cave, however, remains a symbol of the mystery and power of nature. Though it may contain the source of the Marburg virus, it will not be nearly impossible to pinpoint that source.