Saturday, September 27, 2014

Review: Patient Zero by Marilee Peters

Engrossing true stories of the pioneers of epidemiology who risked their lives to find the source of deadly diseases.
Throughout history, more people have died in disease epidemics than in wars or other disasters. The courageous, trail-blazing defenders against these diseases faced a terrifying personal gamble. Often they were ignored, laughed at, or even fired from their jobs. But they kept hunting for answers, putting the pieces of the epidemic puzzle together.
As they looked for clues to the origin of a disease, scientists searched for the unknown "patient zero" -- the first person to have contracted it. In nineteenth-century London, Dr. John Snow's mapping of an epidemic found that patient zero was a six-month-old baby, whose cholera-laden diarrhea had contaminated the water of a local pump. It led to the death of 10,000 inhabitants exposed to the dirty water.
Patient Zero brilliantly brings to life the main characters and events to tell the gripping tale of how each of seven diseases spread.
The Great Plague, 1665 The Soho Outbreak,1854 Yellow Fever in Cuba, 1900 Typhoid in New York City, 1906 Spanish Influenza, 1918-1919 Ebola in Zaire, 1976 AIDS in the U.S., 1980.
The result is spine-chilling as Peters follows the scientists who solved the intricate mystery of the killer epidemics. Patient Zero reminds us that millions of people owe their lives to the work of these pioneer epidemiologists, work that continues to this day.
About the Contributor
Marilee Peters is a former librarian who over the years has written about politics, theater, the environment, parenting, farming, and health, among other topics. This is her first book for children. She lives with her family in Vancouver, BC.

While I enjoyed diagnosing more than epidemiology when I was in medical school, I've always been interested in the stories of the first patients to get diseases.

In Patient Zero, readers get to see the methods by which scientists and doctors were able to trace epidemics to their likely sources, sometimes even specifically to a person.

Prior to reading this book, I was already aware of the story of the Typhoid outbreak in New York City, as well as how AIDS was likely spread from Africa to America. The other stories were mostly new to me, however, and while I did learn a few things in the other two stories, I obviously found the other stories more interesting. I was particularly impressed by the fact that the patient zero for Spanish Influenza in the U.S. was identified.

Each chapter devoted to a disease started with a story showing the patient zero already ill. I don't know how much of each story is true, but it does help you get settled into the story and realize that these are actual people and not just patients.

There were plenty of trivia and the full-colored pages helped keep everything interesting. Aside from the descriptions of the diseases and how the scientists were able to solve the disease's riddles, there are also mentions of the ancient treatments used for some of the diseases. Most of these treatments, of course, seem ridiculous now.

What's great about this book is that not only does it help kids understand epidemics, it's also pretty relevant, especially now that there's an Ebola outbreak and scientists have been warning about a possible flu pandemic in the future. This book may help kids be more aware of diseases that may not be typical.

Thanks to NetGalley and Annick Press Ltd. for the e-ARC.


  1. The stories are interesting.
  2. The scientists mentioned have done pretty amazing work.
  3. It can help people understand epidemics and pandemics.  


  1. Since most of the chapters start with the story of patient zero or a sick patient, you don't get to solve the identity of patient zero along with the doctor, although you could help guess the mode of transmission.


  1. Your child likes books about science and medicine.
  2. You or your child want to learn more about epidemics.
  3. You've always wondered how certain epidemics started. 



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