Toddler May Be Ebola Outbreak’s Patient Zero

The area of the initial locations of the Ebola virus outbreak is highlighted in red. The main road between the outbreak area and Conakry, the capital of Guinea, also is shown. The map was modified from a United Nations map. Courtesy/NEJM

HSNW News:

A recent report on the Ebola outbreak suggests that a two-year-old boy who died Dec. 6, 2013 in a village in Guéckédou, Guinea might be the virus’s Patient Zero.

Guéckédou borders Sierra Leone and Liberia, where Ebola has infected more than 1,700 people.

According to the study, which was published in the New England Journal of Medicine and reported by the New York Times, a week after the boy died, his mother died from a similar illness, followed by the child’s three-year-old sister and then his grandmother. All suffered from fever, vomiting and diarrhea, but no one, including local health workers, suspected Ebola. Mourners at the grandmother’s funeral are suspected to have spread the virus after catching the disease from individuals who prepared the body for burial or interacted with the family.

No one has absolute knowledge on how the first human contracted this recent strain of Ebola, but the virus is known to infect non-human primates, which may then have been transmitted to humans through handling of contaminated raw meat. Ebola also is known to infect fruit bats without harming them, so some researchers suggest that fruits infected with contaminated bat droppings may have been eaten, leading to the virus in humans.

As poor and weak health care systems in West Africa adapt to take care of Ebola patients, doctors fear that deaths from malaria and other diseases could rise as Ebola drains resources. Past Ebola outbreaks have been limited to small villages, but this recent outbreak originated in West Africa, a region reported to have never experienced Ebola before, so health workers are not prepared to deal with the outbreak.

As of Monday, West African countries have placed restrictions on many border crossings, and immigration agents abroad are conducting screenings at checkpoints. The Daily Star Sunday reported that border agents in the United Kingdom are threatening to go on strike, claiming that not enough is being done to protect them from infection from passengers arriving at Heathrow and Gatwick airports.

A U.K. Border Force spokesman responded, saying that “our priority remains the security of the border, which includes helping ­protect public health and we have well-established ­procedures for dealing with infectious diseases. We are working closely with partners such as Public Health England to minimize any potential risk and Border Force officers have already been given guidance on how to identify and safely deal with suspected cases of Ebola.”

Source: Homeland Security News Wire

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