Richard Preston wrote the Cobra Event in 1997. Its characters and story is fictional but the science is real and based on what is possible. Real people working for the FBI and USAMRIID and other agencies were interviewed as to what could happen with current technologies. The author's other books are non-fiction and this story is based on so many expert's assistance that the story is almost looking into the future.
Alice Austen is a medical pathologist who works for the C.D.C.. She is sent to New York City to investigate the deaths of two people: a teenage girl and a homeless man who lives in the subway. Both died with grand mal seizures where the body forms and S, and with self-cannibalism of the tongue and mouth. Kate bought a box at a flea market that contained Cobra virus crystals. Alice Austen traces the activities of Kate Moran and Penny Zecker, another victim of Cobra.
She realized that Zecker sells things at the flea market that Kate Moran shops at. Alice Austen searches Kate Moran's bedroom and finds a box with a paper that says "Human Trial # 1, April 12. Archimedes Fecit." That translates to "Made my Archimedes." These were experiments with small amounts of viral glass (virus made into fragile crystals). Meanwhile, Archimedes is creating large quantities of the Cobra virus in his apartment.
Archimedes is a man who believed that the world was too overpopulated and that only a virus could help save the world. His intention was to spread the virus and kill half of everyone in the world. Once those susceptible to the virus died, the survivors would benefit because then there would be more resources for each person. Humans have been reproducing exponentially and modern medicine has helped the world become even more crowded than ever before. The Cobra virus is a genetically engineered bioweapon made from smallpox, the common cold, and a caterpillar virus that attacks the nervous system. It was named the Cobra virus because the boxes that were first found with the virus inside had a cobra drawn on their lids. There is no way to stop a virus besides a vaccine, which takes years to develop. The AIDS virus was discovered 17 years ago and there still is no vaccine. To test its effectiveness, Archimedes released two boxes in New York and a virus bomb in a D.C. subway. Only twenty people died from these boxes. A large biological bomb released in New York City would spread all over the world as people travel on business.
When a person is infected with Cobra, the virus replicates for days before symptoms begin to show. Colds and runny noses are the primary symptoms until the brain is overloaded with virus particles and cannot function correctly. The victim then loses control of its body and begins to eat their own tongue and lips. Finally, violent grand mal seizures and then death occurs. A virus like this reprograms a cell's DNA to make hundreds or thousands of copies of the virus before the cell membrane breaks and releases the virus. The Cobra virus affects mostly cells of the nervous system, mainly the brain. When a person dies, there body has been hot with Cobra virus for several days, which could infect another person if only one or two virus particles are inhaled in the lungs. One particle is enough to infect somebody but if two or three particles enter the body then the person is very likely to contract the virus. However, not every person will die from a virus. Some people will be naturally immune to the virus and will not be infected. This immunity is genetic, so no children of two immune parents will get sick from the virus.
Once Kate Moran's art teacher died, they analyzed the victims and found the Cobra Virus. The virus in Kate Moran's dying body infected her art teacher as he attempted to perform CPR. Next, a man who witnessed the art teacher die became sick with the Cobra virus.
After people began dying from being exposed to other victims, the white house and FBI held a meeting to assess the potential threat of the virus.
The DNA of the virus was studied in attempts to determine what it was. The forensic scientists were able to track the terrorist because the caterpillar virus was only being researched in two laboratories in the U.S., one in New Jersey. The FBI went to the company in New Jersey and the CEO said he thought Tom Cope was a man who was fired from the company in New Jersey because he was acting abnormal and was suspected of stealing viruses, including the one found in the Cobra Virus. The FBI found out where he lived and at as Cope was leaving his apartment on his way to release enough virus to kill everybody, the FBI agents were beginning to surround the building. He runs back up to his apartment and escapes by sliding down an old laundry chute and into the basement. Cope had built an escape route from the basement into the subway. By this time, Cope himself was becoming infected with the virus, and he died on his way to setting the bombs off above ground.