Mayinga in The Hot Zone: A Nurse Gets Ebola

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform summary of "The Hot Zone" by Richard Preston. Shortform has the world's best summaries of books you should be reading.

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Who is Mayinga in The Hot Zone? Was Mayinga responsible for furthering the spread of Ebola?

Mayinga in The Hot Zone was a nurse at a hospital in Nairobi, who cared for patients sick with the Ebola Zaire virus, the most deadly strain of Ebola.

Read about how Mayinga in The Hot Zone contracted Mayinga, and what happened next.

Mayinga in The Hot Zone Contracts the Virus

The virus appeared at the rural Yambuku Mission Hospital, which was run by Belgian nuns. No one knows who the first human was to contract Ebola Zaire, or from what—whether animal meat, insect blood, a spider bite, or something else. The hospital’s practice of reusing dirty needles made it impossible to know which patient first brought the virus into the hospital. 

Just a drop of infected blood is enough to transmit Ebola, so the virus quickly spread among the hospital’s nurses, injection patients, and their families, hitting 55 surrounding villages at once.

When one nun at the hospital, known as Sister M. E., became infected, a priest and another nun flew her to Kinshasa, the country’s capital. They reasoned that she would receive better treatment there, at Ngaliema Hospital. Sister M. E. survived the trip and then died at Ngaliema Hospital. 

The doctors at Ngaliema Hospital recognized the nun’s symptoms as similar to Marburg, so they sent samples of her liver and blood to national laboratories in Belgium and England. 

Spreading the Virus Around Kinshasa

Meanwhile, in Kinshasa, a nurse from Ngaliema Hospital who helped care for Sister M. E. became sick. 

Despite her symptoms, the nurse, named Mayinga, spent two days walking through Kinshasa. During those two days, she waited in line at the Zairean foreign ministry, took taxis, visited two hospitals, and sat in crowded waiting rooms. 

Most likely, Mayinga in The Hot Zone knew she’d contracted the virus but was in denial. She visited the foreign ministry in hopes of getting a travel permit before she became visibly sick. Mayinga’s denial also explains why she didn’t initially seek treatment at her hospital, where the staff knew her and would have recognized her symptoms. 

Finally, after receiving no helpful treatment or advice from the two hospitals, she returned to Ngaliema Hospital for treatment. 

News spread among local residents and officials that a nurse who was infected with the same virus that had devastated parts of the Bumba Zone had spent two days traveling around a city of two million people. 

Officials at the World Health Organization went into high alert. The Zairean President ordered soldiers to enforce quarantine at Ngaliema Hospital and to isolate Bumba Zone, where the virus originated. 

Mayinga in The Hot Zone died at Ngaliema Hospital. Some of Mayinga’s blood still sits in vials in scientific laboratories as a sample of Ebola Zaire. 

Officials tracked down Mayinga’s whereabouts during those two days in Kinshasa and identified 37 people who had close contact with her. None of the 37 people contracted the virus—not even the person with whom she’d shared a bottle of soda. This suggested the virus was neither airborne nor easily transmissible. 

Mayinga in The Hot Zone: A Nurse Gets Ebola

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Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best summary of Richard Preston's "The Hot Zone" at Shortform.

Here's what you'll find in our full The Hot Zone summary:

  • The many different strains of Ebola, including the deadliest kind with a kill rate of 90%
  • How scientists unraveled the mystery of a new strain of Ebola
  • How Ebola could become airborne, becoming one of the deadliest viruses known

Carrie Cabral

Carrie has been reading and writing for as long as she can remember, and has always been open to reading anything put in front of her. She wrote her first short story at the age of six, about a lost dog who meets animal friends on his journey home. Surprisingly, it was never picked up by any major publishers, but did spark her passion for books. Carrie worked in book publishing for several years before getting an MFA in Creative Writing. She especially loves literary fiction, historical fiction, and social, cultural, and historical nonfiction that gets into the weeds of daily life.

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