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Scientists Trace ‘Patient Zero’ in Ebola Outbreak

August 12, 2014
Public Health

Researchers suspect that the first person to die in the current Ebola outbreak was a two year old child in the village of Guéckédou in southeastern Guinea. The boy died on December 6th a few days after falling ill. A week later his mother, younger sister and grandmother also succumbed to the disease. Two mourners at the grandmother’s funeral took the infection back to their village where a health worker and doctor became infected.

The findings have been published in New England Journal of Medicine after a team of epidemiologists studied hospital records and conducted interviews with the affected families and other contacts. Guéckédou borders Sierra Leone and Liberia, two of the world’s poorest countries.

By the time Ebola gained international recognition in March dozens of people had died in eight Guinean communities with cases having spread to both neighbouring areas. Scientists believe that the fact that this part of Africa had not seen Ebola outbreaks before meant health workers were slow to recognise the symptoms of the disease.

The most likely route of infection was initially thought to be from handling raw fruit and bat meat although lead study author Sylvain Baize told the New York Times this was unlikely to be the case with a two year old. The infection is believed to have remained dormant in animal reservoirs in West Africa for some time. Other causes of transmission include fruit contaminated by bat droppings and injections using contaminated needles.   

You can view a copy of the study here.