EBOLA OUTBREAK: Two-year-old believed to be Patient Zero in the Ebola outbreak
A new study published in The New England Journal of Medicine has suggested that a two-year-old boy from Guinea, in West Africa, could be the first person to have died of this year’s worldwide Ebola outbreak.
The toddler, now identified as Patient Zero, died on 6 December 2013 in a village in Guéckédou in south-eastern Guinea. The area is on the border with Sierra Leone and Liberia – which scientists have said makes it an ideal entry point for an epidemic.
There have since been at least 1 779 cases of the disease, which the World Health Organisation (WHO) has now declared an international public health emergency, and 961 deaths - including the boy’s mother, sister and grandmother.
When they died, no one was sure of how the family had fallen ill, although they had displayed the symptoms of Ebola such as fever, vomiting and diarrhoea. Thus, no special procedures were put into place when it came to treating them.
Within a few weeks, the study shows, contaminated healthcare workers who had supported the family and mourners at their funerals then spread the disease to surrounding villages and hospitals.
By early March, it had appeared across southern Guinea and cases have now been reported in Nigeria, Liberia and Sierra Leone.
The study says an international team of researchers managed to trace the Ebola outbreak by looking at the way the new strain spread throughout Africa. Although, the toddler and his family were never officially diagnosed with Ebola, their symptoms match the disease and, according to The New York Times, “fit into a pattern of transmission that included other cases confirmed by blood tests”.
However, the scientists involved in the study are still not sure of how the boy would have caught Ebola in the first place.
Sylvain Baize, part of the team that analysed the Guinea outbreak and a researcher at the Pasteur Institute in Lyon, France, told The New York Times that there might have been an earlier undiscovered case prior to the young boy.
“We suppose that the first case was infected following contact with bats,” Blaize said.
“Maybe, but we are not sure.”
Photo Caption: For the first time in West Africa, a case of Ebola was confirmed on 21 March, three weeks after the first alert of a possible viral haemorrhagic fever emerged from Guinea’s Forest region. Animals such as fruit bats, rodents and monkeys, abundant in the adjacent rain forest, are believed to have served as ‘reservoir’ for the virus. However, once it passed from an infected animal to a human-being, the virus is now ready for human-to-human transmission. Though frightening and very lethal, relatively simple precautions can break the cycle of transmission and stop the epidemic from spreading. The European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection department (ECHO) supports MSF, WHO and IFRC in their efforts to contain the epidemic. © EC/ECHO. Photo used under Creative Commons lisence.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has said that the Ebola outbreak in West Africa has been highly underestimated, adding that the epidemic was far worse than previously thought. Over 1000 people in four countries, Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Nigeria have died since the epidemic broke out.
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