Better Know An Epidemiologist/History of Epidemiology is an ongoing feature where Mr Epidemiology pays tribute to people and studies that have set the stage for his generation of epidemiologists. All of the articles are listed here.
EDIT 10/01/12: I had indicated (incorrectly) that Typhoid Fever was a viral disease. It is in fact due to a bacterium instead. Thanks to Mike the Mad Biologist for pointing that out!
EDIT 10/01/12: As Brett Keller points out in the comments, Gaetan Dugas was not Patient Zero for HIV. While he contributed to the spread of the virus, he wasn’t the first known case of it, and so the label of Patient Zero is unfairly applied to him.
Patient Zero is a common infectious disease epidemiology term. It refers to the first known case of the disease of interest, and is useful when tracking disease outbreaks. Knowing where the disease starts allows us to track not only the spread of the disease, but also how it spreads – through water, air, person-to-person contact etc.
I heard an absolutely phenomenal podcast through WNYC’s RadioLab podcast about Patient Zero, and that formed the inspiration for this post. I highly recommend listening to it when you have a chance – either through iTunes, on their website. They cover several different “Patient Zero’s,” including Typhoid Mary and Gaetan Dugas (pictured above).
Today, I’ll be talking about Typhoid Mary. To listen exclusively to the Typhoid Mary segment of the RadioLab podcast, click here.