Camels And Contagion: Inside Global Hunt For Source Of MERS

Cynthia Gorney | National Geographic | May 13, 2014

With another case of the virus confirmed in the U.S., virus detectives are tracing its spread.

The Index Patient

His name, two years later, is guarded within the privacy of medical files and a family compound of bereaved relatives, his wives, and his children. He was 60 years old. He was a businessman. He lived in Bishah, a small city southeast of the great Saudi port metropolis of Jeddah, and when he became too sick for the Bishah doctors to care for him properly, he was transported to Jeddah, feverish and coughing. There he lay, inside one of the tall white buildings of the Dr. Soliman Fakeeh Hospital, where a diagnostic physician called onto his case happened to be a virology specialist, an Egyptian physician named Ali Mohamed Zaki, who liked to pay close attention to the latest reports of pernicious infectious disease.

All this was at the very beginning, a single week in the middle of June 2012, long before the sick man was understood to be the "index patient."

In clinical reports you don't see the popularized term "patient zero." Once the international detective hunt was under way, as one researcher after another joined in and the search and the connector clues spread around the globe—to Rotterdam and New York City, to the Spanish Canary Islands and Oman and Qatar, to France, England, Greece, Jordan, Egypt, Nigeria, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Australia, Indiana, and, just announced yesterday, Florida—and as the questions and implications continue to spread, the man from Bishah has invariably been referred to as the "index patient" or "the patient in Jeddah."...