Hunting for ‘Disease X’

In the Congo rainforest, the doctor who discovered Ebola warns of deadly viruses yet to come

Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo — Showing early symptoms of hemorrhagic fever, the patient sits quietly on her bed, wrangling two toddlers desperate to flee the cell-like hospital room in Ingende, a remote town in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

They are waiting for the results of a test for Ebola.

The patient can only communicate with her relatives through a clear plastic observation window. Her identity is secret, to protect her from being ostracized by locals fearful of Ebola infection. Her children have also been tested but, for now, show no symptoms.

There is a vaccine and a treatment for Ebola, which have brought down the rate at which it kills.

But the question at the back of everyone’s mind is: What if this woman doesn’t have Ebola? What if, instead, she is patient zero of “Disease X,” the first known infection of a new pathogen that could sweep the world as fast as Covid-19, but one that has Ebola’s 50% to 90% fatality rate?

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