Authorities have attempted, amid the ever-growing Ebola outbreak in West Africa, to find what epidemiologists call “patient zero”- or the patient that was first struck by the deadly virus. It seems that the search has finally produced a result: before the Ebola virus began ravaging West Africa, it first claimed the life of Emile Quamouno.
This 2-year-old was known as patient zero, and researchers from the New England Journal of Medicine believe him to have been the first person to contract the virus that began the current outbreak almost a year ago.
“In Africa, infection has been documented through the handling of infected chimpanzees, gorillas, fruit bats, monkeys, forest antelope and porcupines,”
the World Health Organization said.
Early in December of 2013, Emile presented with fever, black stool and vomiting. By December 6th, four days later, the boy had died. One month later, his mother, grandmother and 4-year-old sister had also lost their lives. Only Emile’s father survived:
“Before my children Emile and Philomène died, they loved to play with a ball. My wife liked to carry the baby on her back,”
Etienne Oaumouno, Emile’s father, told UNICEF.
Spreading the Disease
It did not take long for Ebola to spread like wildfire from the village of Meliandou, close at Guinea’s border with Liberia and Sierra Leone, where the family resided.
When several people attended the funeral of Emile’s grandmother, they too got infected. Later on, a midwife contracted the disease and spread it to her relatives in another village as well as the health worker treating her. The health worker was brought to a hospital in Macenta and passed the disease to the treating physician, who in turn passed it to his brothers in Kissidougou, 82 miles away. They all died.
Current Ebola Figures
From there on, numbers soon sky-rocketed and death tolls reached 5,000 worldwide, including a death in the United States. Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia are the hardest hit nations.
The village where Emile became infected is currently Ebola free, health workers claim, however there are lingering effects. The social fabric has been turned upside down, with extended families no longer taking orphans in for fear of the disease.
“We noticed that with this crisis, which is almost a humanitarian catastrophe, people flee their villages, and abandon their families and their children,”
a UNICED child protection officer said.
“They reject the infected children and the other infected family members.”