The virus detective who discovered Ebola in 1976
Friday, July 18, 2014
Nearly 40 years ago, a young Belgian scientist travelled to a remote part of the Congolese rainforest – his task was to help find out why so many people were dying from an unknown and terrifying disease.
In September 1976, a package containing a shiny, blue thermos flask arrived at the Institute of Tropical Medicine in Antwerp, Belgium.
Working in the lab that day was Peter Piot, a 27-year-old scientist and medical school graduate training as a clinical microbiologist.
“It was just a normal flask like any other you would use to keep coffee warm,” recalls Piot, now Director of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.
But this thermos wasn’t carrying coffee – inside was an altogether different cargo. Nestled amongst a few melting ice cubes were vials of blood along with a note.
It was from a Belgian doctor based in what was then Zaire, now the Democratic Republic of Congo – his handwritten message explained that the blood was that of a nun, also from Belgium, who had fallen ill with a mysterious illness which he couldn’t identify.
- Health Care