Patient Zero: First Recorded Cases of 8 Deadly Disease Outbreaks In History
With the Coronavirus pandemic affecting millions of people in countries around the world today, have you ever stopped to wonder who the first-ever person to come down with the respiratory disease was? How about the Ebola virus or AIDS or Swine flu? There are hundreds of deadly infectious diseases in existence today with outbreaks happening over the course of history and claiming millions of lives. However, the eight diseases on this list made living so difficult and spread like wildfire, infecting, and killing millions of people.
Who were the first recorded victims to cause major outbreaks? If you’re still wondering what the word ‘patient zero’ means, let me explain. In medical science, the term ‘patient zero’ refers to the index case or initial patient in the population of an epidemiological investigation. Even though people may have had the disease and died from them before, the very first patient diagnosed with a particular disease during the investigation of an outbreak is referred to as the patient zero. Really cool name don’t you think? I first heard that name when I saw the movie World War Z, which is still the best zombie movie Ever! Without further ado, here are 8 Patient Zeros of 8 deadly outbreaks known to mankind.
Patient Zero 1: Gaëtan Dugas (HIV/AIDS)
There’s really no way you’re going to name the most deadly disease outbreaks of all time without including the very popular Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV/AIDS). When a study was published in the American Journal of Medicine in 1984, a certain individual named Gaëtan Dugas was brought into the spotlight. The research traced many early HIV infections to Gaëtan Dugas who was a gay Canadian male flight attendant. Gaëtan Dugas was born on February 20, 1953, and died on March 30, 1984. Apparently, he was one of the earliest HIV patients in the United States and he was once widely regarded as the “patient zero” for AIDS in the United States.
However, his case was later found to have been only one of many that began in the 1970s, according to a September 2016 study. The study found that Gaëtan Dugas who through his extravagant sexual lifestyle and those of his bedmates, could be linked to nine of the first 19 cases in Los Angeles, 22 cases in New York City and nine more in eight other cities – in all, some 40 of the first 248 cases in the U.S.
Undoubtedly, Dugas was a handsome blond steward for Air Canada, who used to check out the men on offer in gay bars and claim with satisfaction to be the “prettiest one.” Gaetan Dugas used airline passes to travel extensively and picked up men wherever he went. Dugas developed Kaposi’s sarcoma, a form of skin cancer common to AIDS victims, in June 1980, before the epidemic had been perceived by physicians. later he was endangering anyone he slept with. Dugas unrepentantly carried on and was averaging about 250 sexual partners a year until his death in March 1984, adding countless direct and indirect victims.
Patient Zero 2: Mary Mallon A.KA. Typhoid Mary
Perhaps one of the most fascinating Patient zeros of all time with a really interesting story to back it up. Mary Mallon, born September 23, was a cook in the United States. She earned her cool name Typhoid Mary because she was the first person in the United States identified as an asymptomatic carrier of the pathogen associated with typhoid fever (Salmonella typhi). The problem is that Mary was a perfectly healthy woman who claimed to have had little or no history of Typhoid infection.
Mary Mallon was born in 1869 in Cookstown County Tyrone (an unusual coincidence that she ended up being a cook) in what is now Northern Ireland. She immigrated to the United States in 1883 at the age of 15. She lived with her aunt and uncle for a time and later found work as a cook for affluent families. Unfortunately, a string of Typhoid infections and fatalities were common in the places she worked. Since Mary was the first “healthy carrier” of typhoid fever in the United States, she did not understand how someone not sick could spread the disease – so she tried to fight back.
After several fruitless efforts to have her tested by a typhoid researcher named George Soper, the New York City Health Department finally sent physician Sara Josephine Baker to talk to Mallon but she still didn’t listen, claiming she was perfectly fine. A few days later, Baker arrived at Mallon’s workplace with several police officers, who took her into custody. She was detained for 3 years (1907–1910). She was later released and instructed to find another job that would reduce the risk of infecting others with the disease.
However, Mary was stubborn and she got back into the cooking business some years later, changing her name to Mary Brown. Unfortunately, in 1915, Mallon started another major outbreak, this time at Sloane Hospital for Women in New York City. 25 people were infected and two died. She was then tracked down and detained again for the second time for another 19 years when she brought food to a friend on Long Island (seems like she enjoyed being the ‘killer-cook‘).
In November 1938, she died of pneumonia at age 69 and she is believed to have caused at least three deaths in her entire career as a killer-cook. Due to her use of aliases and refusal to cooperate, the exact number is not known. Some have estimated that she may have caused 50 fatalities.
Patient Zero 3: Emile Ouamouno (Ebola)
According to the World Health Organization, the infection has been documented through the handling of infected chimpanzees, gorillas, fruit bats, monkeys, forest antelope, and porcupines in Africa. In December, Emile had a fever, black stool and started vomiting. Four days later, on December 6, he was dead. His family initially thought it was witchcraft at play but unfortunately, within a month, his young sister, his mother, and his grandmother also died.
Patient Zero 4: Dr. Liu Jianlun (2007 SARS Outbreak)
In case you don’t know about SARS, it’s a severe acute respiratory syndrome caused by the SARS coronavirus (SARS-CoV). Between November 2002 and July 2003, an outbreak of SARS in southern China caused an eventual 8,096 cases, resulting in 774 deaths in 37 countries, with the majority of cases in Hong Kong (9.6% fatality rate). According to the World Health Organization (WHO), a 64-year-old Chinese doctor who had treated cases in Guangdong arrived in Hong Kong to attend a wedding.
He checked into the Metropole Hotel (the ninth floor – room 911). Although he had developed symptoms on February 15, he felt well enough to travel, shop, and sight-see with his brother-in-law. On February 22, he sought urgent care at the Kwong Wah Hospital and was admitted to the intensive care unit. He died on March 4.
About 80% of the Hong Kong cases have been traced back to this doctor. On February 23, a 47-year-old Chinese-American businessman (Johnny Chen, a Shanghai resident) who had stayed on the 9th floor of the Metropole Hotel (across the hall from the Chinese doctor) traveled to Hanoi, Vietnam. After his arrival, he became ill and was admitted to The French Hospital of Hanoi on February 26.
Seven days later, on ventilator support, he was medically evacuated to Hong Kong but by then seven hospital workers who had cared for him had already developed symptoms of SARS. He died on March 13. At least 38 health-care workers in Hanoi were infected with SARS. Doctor Carlo Urbani, an infectious diseases specialist based in Hanoi, noticed the outbreak among hospital workers there and first recognized SARS as a new disease. He initially suspected that it was Avian influenza (bird flu).
Patient Zero 5: Frances Lewis (Cholera Outbreak)
Cholera was a serious threat to public health in Victorian London. In 1854, over the course of just 10 days, 500 people dropped dead within a few blocks of central London. Symptoms of cholera included vomiting, diarrhea, stomach cramps, and extreme thirst, and a patient who began feeling sick could be dead that day. By the end of the cholera epidemic, over 10,000 people were dead and scientists were desperate to find out where this lethal epidemic originated.
The source, they found, was the diaper of a tiny, five-month-old baby named Frances Lewis. Local physician John Snow (I’m sure you thought of GOT here) plotted on a map the exact locations where cholera victims had died. Known later as “the ghost map,” Snow’s map showed that the majority of victims lived close to a water pump on Broad Street. It seems that Frances Lewis’s mother was washing her baby’s soiled diapers in pails of water that she then emptied into the cesspool in front of her house on Broad Street.
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Victorian London was not known for its cleanliness, and the cesspool leaked directly into the local water supply, poisoning thousands of the area’s residents. Soon after the pump was condemned, the cholera epidemic came to an end.
Patient Zero 6: Edgar Enrique Hernandez (Swine flu)
“Kid Zero” may sound like the name of a superhero sidekick, but it was actually the nickname of the first human infected with swine flu. Four-year-old Edgar Enrique Hernandez from Mexico tested positive for H1N1 swine flu in March 2009. Soon, photos of his smiling face were on the front page of every newspaper. Swine influenza, also called pig influenza, swine flu, hog flu, and pig flu, is an infection caused by any one of several types of swine influenza viruses.
In Edgar’s hometown, the rural town of La Gloria, several hundred people fell ill in a matter of weeks and two children died. According to the World Health Organization, H1N1 has caused or contributed to the deaths of over 18,000 people as of January 2016. Many residents of La Gloria blame nearby industrial hog farms for the outbreak, but the jury is still out on whether H1N1 originated in the pigpens.
Also unconfirmed is whether little Edgar was actually the first human to contract H1N1 swine flu. Regardless, the local authorities of La Gloria recently erected a bronze statue of Edgar in an interesting attempt to bring tourists to the town famous for swine flu.
Patient Zero 7: Patient Zero MERS
The MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome) epidemic in South Korea was officially declared over in July 2015. The Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), also known as camel flu, is a viral respiratory infection caused by the MERS-coronavirus and symptoms may range from mild to severe. They include fever, cough, diarrhea, and shortness of breath.
This deadly respiratory disease was first detected in Saudi Arabia and is thought to be derived from bats. No one knows the identity of the first victim of MERS in Saudi Arabia. But when the virus hit South Korea, causing a serious epidemic that killed 36 people, it was easy to trace the source to one man. The ‘Patient zero’ (I have no idea what his name was) in the South Korean MERS outbreak first sought medical attention for a nasty cough and high fever on May 11, 2015.
At a clinic in his hometown of Asan, south of Seoul, doctors examined the patient over the course of four days but could not figure out the cause of his ill health. On May 20, the patient sought help at the Samsung Medical Center in Seoul and revealed that he had recently returned from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
Finally, he was correctly diagnosed with the highly contagious virus. By then, the patient zero had infected the two men who shared his hospital room, his doctor, a number of people sharing his hospital ward, and their visiting relatives. There were 186 confirmed cases of MERS in South Korea. Thousands of people were quarantined in an attempt to stop the spread of the virus, a precaution that brought chaos to the city of Seoul.
Patient Zero 8: Private Albert Gitchell (The Spanish flu)
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