The Hot Zone

TV review by
Melissa Camacho, Common Sense Media
The Hot Zone TV Poster Image
Harrowing drama about first U.S. Ebola outbreak is violent.

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Positive Messages

Highlights the medical challenges associated with the Ebola virus. Also highlights importance of researching and being prepared for deadly diseases. Panic and misinformation potentially created by the media about Ebola, AIDS, other diseases is noted. 

Positive Role Models & Representations

Nancy Jaax takes actions to identify and contain the disease, sometimes putting herself at risk. Peter Jahrling is reckless in the way he handles samples and himself. 


Horrific scenes of people suffering from the virus, including violently vomiting, sweating, collapsing, moaning, etc. Infected and burned bodies visible. A person is shot at point-blank range; automatic rifles visible. Primates viciously attack humans; surgical procedures on monkeys reveal blood and organs. A dying parent. 


Some innuendo (hugging, kissing).  


Occasionally words like "hell" are audible. 

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Hard liquor visible. Wine and beer consumed. 

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Hot Zone is a dramatic miniseries based on actual events surrounding the 1989 Ebola virus outbreak at a research facility in the United States. It contains disturbing scenes of people suffering the effects of hemorrhagic fever (sweating, violently vomiting, etc.), as well as people being shot. Corpses are visible. Primates are shown attacking humans, being euthanized, and being surgically opened. There's some occasional strong language, sexual innuendo, and drinking (wine, beer).  

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What's the story?

Adapted from the book of the same name, THE HOT ZONE is a dramatic miniseries inspired by the true story of the 1989 outbreak of the Ebola virus in the United States. Dr. Nancy Jaax (Julianna Margulies), a colonel in the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID), works with the world's deadliest diseases in order to identify, contain, and find cures for some of the most fatal pathogens on the planet. When primates shipped from the Philippines to a private animal research facility owned by Walter Humbolt (Robert Sean Leonard) begin dying, her tests reveal that they are dealing with a strand of the Ebola Virus Disease (EVD). Faced with resistance from her civilian colleague Peter Jahrling (Topher Grace) and the military, Jaax relies on her mentor Wade Carter (Liam Cunningham) to guide her efforts, and to convince those in charge that the disease must be contained by destroying the animals. They must also track down every person exposed to the animals, and those with whom they may have come in contact with. Meanwhile, Trevor Rhodes (James D'Arcy), Carter's former colleague and now director of the Centers for Disease Control, wants to approach the situation more cautiously in order to avoid creating what can become a national panic. Dr. Jaax has the courage to do whatever she can to learn more about, and contain, the virus. But this doesn't lessen her concerns for her husband (Noah Emmerich), her children (played by Aiden Glenn and Anna Pniowsky), and her dying father.

Is it any good?

This intense real-life story highlights how ill-prepared federal and military agencies were when the Ebola virus appeared on U.S. soil for the first time. It also shows the extreme reactions people had to the outbreak despite knowing little about it, thanks to media hype and the mass panic surrounding AIDS at that time. Also interesting is the series' secondary storyline, which comes in the form of flashbacks to 1976, during the first EVD outbreak in Africa. It's here where Drs. Carter and Rhodes (who, unlike Nancy Jaax and Peter Jahrling, are fictional characters) see the disease manifest itself firsthand, and experience frightening and tragic dramatic moments.

Their journey also points to the fact that Ebola is more deadly to the poor than it is to those who have access to good medical care. But despite the lessons The Hot Zone offers, you have to question how much has been learned when recalling the media hype and national panic caused by more recent EVD outbreaks. Nonetheless, it dramatically reminds us that all diseases eventually return, and that it's necessary to be prepared to effectively deal with them when they do. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the Ebola virus. Why do outbreaks often originate in Africa? How are doctors and scientists equipped to handle situations like these? 

  • What does The Hot Zone tell us about the relationship between how the media covers medical outbreaks and the way people react to certain diseases over others? For example, did you know that 90% of people who get medical treatment for Ebola survive? 

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