Patient Zero: who was the first person infected with Covid-19?
The origins of Covid-19 are still a mystery. Some theorize that the outbreak began in a lab, an idea that the US government has backed to some extent.
However, the scientific community mostly agrees that the coronavirus was transmitted from an animal to a human. The academic journal Science recently published a piece that sheds light on the so-called 'patient zero'.
The World Health Organization has always maintained that the first case of Covid-19 occurred in December 2019.
The infected person allegedly was a 41-year old Chinese accountant, a man unrelated to the Huanan Seafood Market of Wuhan where many researchers believe the virus began.
An article in Science by American researcher Michael Worobey refutes the hypothesis of the WHO and identifies patient zero as someone linked to this controversial wet market where wildlife was sold.
After an extensive data analysis of December arrivals to the local hospitals, showing a strange, new form of pneumonia, Worobey concludes that patient zero was a female vendor in the Huanan wet market. She was the first person with Covid-19 in Wuhan and the world.
Everything began on December 11, 2019 in Wuhan, China, according to the thesis of the Science study. That's when the female vendor was admitted to a hospital and that Covid-19 cases began to spread.
The Science study concludes that the wet market in Wuhan was the center of the pandemic. The patient zero that the WHO had proposed, lived far from the market, and tracking the origins of the pandemic to him was much more difficult.
Worobey and the other authors of the article state in Science that it was probably the infection of animals with Covid-19 at the market that caused the pandemic. However, it's impossible to know how many animals infected with coronavirus were on the premises.
The virus freely evolved in the time between the first major cluster of Covid-19 cases and the day the market was closed. The Huanan market closed down on January 1, 2020.
Traditional wet markets that sell living animals are a common feature in Asia. However, the possibility that caged animals transmit new diseases to humans in such environments is very real and dangerous.
The risk of these markets comes from the close contact between wildlife and humans. Infections can occur through saliva, bites, and other interactions in which biological material is exchanged. However, eating an animal that's already been slaughtered represents no danger.
The researchers came very close to where it all began, but they admit in Science that the lack of a sample from the animal population in the market is frustrating. They can never know exactly how the coronavirus emerged at that place.
The timeline and chronological analysis done by Michael Worobey and the others in Science serves only to point out the direct connection between the pandemic and a Chinese wet market. It can help, albeit in a limited sense, in the prevention of future epidemics.
The study published by Science magazine rules out that the origin of the pandemic was in any way related to some sort of infection produced by contact with bats.
All in all, the mystery continues. Scholars now think they know who patient zero was - a woman who spread the disease to her whole family - but they still don't know what type of animal the illness came from or how Covid-19 began in the first place.
Science magazine points out that the famous patient zero postulated by the WHO was most likely infected by community transmission. This means that the virus was already spreading when the 41-year old accountant got ill. He just happened to be the first case where people noticed that it wasn't a common illness.
It's important to remember the shock and disorder during the early stages of the pandemic. On January 1, 2020, the whole world celebrated the arrival of a new year without too many concerns. As news of a strange pneumonia in China started to make headlines, nobody thought much about it.
It would take until January 30, 2020 for the World Health Organization to define Covid-19 as a pandemic. The virus was going to affect the entire world and life across the planet would change radically.