The Ebola outbreak’s patient zero could have started with a 2-year-old boy in Guinea. The toddler, whom researchers believe was the first to contact the virus, suffered fever, black stool, and vomiting about eight months ago. The little boy died on December 6, 2013.
Scientists aren’t sure how the toddler contracted Ebola, which is spread from animals to humans through infected fluids or tissues. CNN reports that researchers published the paper on patient zero in the New England Journal of Medicine.
The World Health Organization says, “In Africa, infection [of Ebola] has been documented through the handling of infected chimpanzees, gorillas, fruit bats, monkeys, forest antelope and porcupines.” Researchers believe that fruit bats are the virus’s “natural host.”
After the 2-year-old boy died, his mother suffered bleeding symptoms and died December 13. The report adds that his 3-year-old sister died on December 29 after experiencing vomiting, fever, and black diarrhea. The illness spread to the grandmother, who died January 1 in Meliandou in Guéckédou.
The village where the Ebola outbreak’s patient zero died is in southern Guinea close to the Sierra Leone and Liberia borders. The illness spread from the village after several people attended the grandmother’s funeral. Two of the funeral attendees fell ill and the virus spread through their villages and to health care workers and family members taking care of patients.
The report stated:
“A health care worker from Guéckédou with suspected disease, seems to have triggered the spread of the virus to Macenta, Nzérékoré, and Kissidougou in February 2014.”
The New York Times notes that, by the time Ebola was recognized in March, dozens of people died in eight Guinean communities, while suspected cases popped up in Liberia and Sierra Leone.
From the suspected patient zero and his family, the Ebola outbreak has grown to affect 1,779 cases, including 961 deaths. Not only is the outbreak the largest ever, it’s likely to surpass all two dozen previous known Ebola outbreaks combined. Epidemiologists predict the outbreak will take several months to control. A spokesman for the World Health Organization added that thousands more health workers are needed to fight it.
Past Ebola outbreaks have been halted within a few months, but this one began in a borer region where people travel frequently. Past outbreaks happened in remote, localized spots. In this case, the disease was also on the move before health officials recognized it.
Public health experts noted that the initial response locally and internationally was inadequate. This part of Africa had never seen Ebola before. Health workers didn’t recognize it and hospitals lacked the equipment to treat patients and keep workers safe.
While the Ebola outbreak’s patient zero may have been identified, health workers, and governments continue to attempt to control the terrible disease.
[Image: NBC News]