A: They could be your next door neighbor, the pizza delivery guy, someone halfway across the world, or even you. The term, “Patient Zero“, refers to the unlucky individual that first contracts a disease (such as a Zombie virus) as it begins to spread through the population. The affliction could come from a mosquito, contaminated food / water, failed containment in a laboratory, or just being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Being Patient Zero would be an incredibly scary thing. Imagine suffering the symptoms of an unknown disease with an unknown treatment, and you’ve got no idea where it may have come from.
When scientists are attempting to fight a new disease, especially in a plague scenario, finding Patient Zero is of the utmost importance. By locating the first of the infected, scientists can learn a lot about where a disease may have come from, and in turn, possibly a way to fight or help prevent the spread. Finding Patient Zero can also help scientists better track the spread of a disease, which allows for early warning systems, and higher levels of prevention preparedness.
Unfortunately, many diseases have an incubation period of at least a few hours, which in the fast paced world of today, can allow it to travel across the globe in a matter of days. So cover your cough, wash your hands, … and please stop touching your face.
The origin of the term “Patient Zero”:
During the 1980s, Dr. William Darrow of the CDC was studying early cases of HIV with his colleagues. After discovering who the first known infected person may have been, the team put together a confidential case record. Within this record the person was referred to as Patient O (short for Out of California). Because O looks so similar to 0 (Zero) it was easily misread, and the term “Patient Zero” was born.