Richard Preston's "The Hot Zone" is a true story of the U.S. military's response to an outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus that took place in Virginia in the late 1980s. The characters in Preston's book are a study in contrasts between the educated American military doctors, who are scared and confused by the disease, and the African hosts who both are infected with the disease and heroically treat those patients who are ill.

Nancy and Jerry Jaax

Jerry and Nancy Jaax are two of the main characters in the book. Both are veterinarians. He is the chief of veterinary division, and she is the chief of pathology. She was present in Africa when the Ebola virus was discovered in the early 1980s. She became exposed to Ebola in Africa. In "The Hot Zone," Nancy Jaax and her husband work for the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases. Nancy and Jerry Jaax are called to investigate the contamination of a monkey medical supply house in Reston, Virginia, that supplied monkeys nationwide. Both Nancy and Jerry must learn to master their fears for their team and each other to solve the mystery of what is killing all of the monkeys at the supply house.

Charles Monet

In "The Hot Zone," Charles Monet is considered the index patient, the first patient to show symptoms of what became known as the Marburg virus. It was difficult to trace Monet's path after he became ill. According to the author, he was a loner who had no real friends. He worked on a sugar plantation in Kenya. Because he liked to bird-watch, he often hiked the forest around Mount Elgon. He became ill with a horrible headache after he visited the cave close to Mount Elgon with a female companion. He then began vomiting blood and his face took on a horrible appearance. He was taken to a hospital in Nairobi, where he died, but not before infecting many other people.

Dr. Peter Jahrling

Peter Jahrling is an expert on infectious diseases at Fort Detrick, an army base in Maryland. He discovers that there is an infectious strain of Ebola virus at the Reston monkey house. He also discovers that the dangerous virus is now able to spread through the air. During the course of "The Hot Zone," Jahrling risks his life by inhaling the virus, to prove that the virus, while now airborne, is not transmitted to humans, but is only infecting monkeys.

Gene Johnson

Eugene Johnson is an expert on the Ebola and Marburg viruses. He is considered wild, a loose cannon. He is an epidemiologist who is brilliant and has made many discoveries, but he rarely publishes his work. He is responsible in the novel for trying to find the source of the virus outbreak in the cave that Monet visited. He also establishes procedures for the monkey house in Reston that keeps the soldiers who are trying to decontaminate the location safe.