patient zero

The term patient zero is an epidemiological term for the person who transmits an infection into a population that had been free of it. The OED records the first published use of the term being in Randy Shilts’s 1987 And the Band Played On, a book about the early years of the AIDS pandemic. Shilts identified a French-Canadian flight attendant by the name of Gaëtan Dugas as patient zero, the man who introduced AIDS into North America. But, it turns out, Shilts was dead wrong. Not only was Dugas unfairly blamed for being the source of the disease, the term itself arose out of a misinterpretation of nomenclature used by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

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