________________ CM . . . . Volume XXI Number 17. . . .January 9, 2015


Patient Zero: Solving the Mysteries of Deadly Epidemics.

Marilee Peters.
Toronto, ON: Annick Press, 2014.
166 pp., trade pbk. & hc., $14.95 (pbk.), $24.95 (hc.).
ISBN 978-1-55451-670-4 (pbk.), ISBN 978-1-55451-671-1 (hc.).

Subject Headings:
Epidemics-History-Juvenile literature. Communicable diseases-History-Juvenile literature.

Grades 6-8 / Ages 11-13.

Review by Daphne Hamilton Nagorsen.

***˝ /4



Mary, he discovered, was linked to 22 cases of typhoid and one death – all in wealthy homes with no previous history of typhoid. Yet how could this be? How could Mary have been ill and contagious with typhoid for 10 years? It didn’t make any sense. Unless – and this is what had George Soper so intrigued – Mary Mallon was able to pass on the typhoid infection to others without showing any symptoms of the disease herself. Could Mary Mallon be a carrier?

In 1906, the idea of healthy carriers of disease was brand new, and very frightening. A German bacteriologist, Dr. Robert Koch, had recently published a scientific paper detailing his discovery of the first confirmed healthy carrier of typhoid. The carrier was a woman found working in a bakery in Germany, who had been ill with typhoid years before and then made a full recovery. The woman was perfectly healthy now, but feces, urine, and blood tests showed she was still full of active typhoid germs, and her hand washing was not careful enough. The result? Her customers were getting sick.

Could Mary Mallon be the first American healthy carrier of typhoid?


Patient Zero: Solving the Mysteries of Deadly Epidemics examines seven different epidemics throughout history and the attempts of scientists to find out who the first person to become ill was and how they contracted the disease. The seven different epidemics are: the Great Plague of London of 1665, the Soho cholera outbreak of 1854, yellow fever in Cuba in 1900, typhoid in New York in 1906, the Spanish influenza pandemic of 1918-1919, Ebola in Zaire in 1976 and AIDS in the United States in 1980. In each chapter, Marilee Peters takes the readers through the outbreak, including the symptoms and death of Patient Zero where this is know, the clues and investigations leading to the discovery of Patient Zero and any other relevant information.

     Patient Zero covers a lot of information in each chapter. Additional information is presented in half or single page fact boxes and can include historical information, such as the four humors of early medical science or prior outbreaks of the disease, or more general information about epidemiology and how it works, including descriptive epidemiology and quarantine rules. While this may seem like a lot of information, Patient Zero is very well written and presents all the information in language that will be easy for readers to understand while also making the subject very interesting. In addition to the excellent writing style, Patient Zero has a good basic glossary to define terms such as “carrier”, “miasma” and “mortality rate”. Other terms are defined in the text, itself, and the pronunciation of some of the more difficult words is also given in the text. There is a good index which should be useful to readers.

     Patient Zero only looks at specific outbreaks of the seven diseases covered. To facilitate further investigation by readers, there is a good bibliography that presents between one and three additional sources for each disease. These include different mediums, including Nova television programs. While the bibliography is good for the specific diseases, it does not list any general sources for epidemics and epidemiology, something which would be useful. The specific sources for each chapter are also presented for readers that really want to learn more.

     Marilee Peters has produced an excellent book about epidemics in human history, how they start, how they are researched and what we can do to prevent epidemics. The writing style makes the information easily accessible and appealing to readers and can be used by readers of different ages. Patient Zero can be used as a resource for assignments or as a casual read by anyone who is interested in epidemics and epidemiology.

Highly Recommended.

Daphne Hamilton Nagorsen is a graduate of the School of Library, Archival and Information Studies at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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