It depends on the epidemic. For rare diseases that pop up now and then, like ebola, this was important because people wanted to know where ebola was coming from. Years could pass without a single known human having it, so it was coming from the environment, likely some kind of animal. After finding out “patient zero” for ebola outbreaks, you can look at where they lived, what they did, etc. to identify likely candidates for animal hosts, and then go into the wild and collect those animals to see if they actually have the virus. If they do, then you can now warn everyone that this is how you get ebola, so they know to be cautious.
Studying diseases that can jump species barriers can also potentially teach us about which diseases might do this in the future, so we can be prepared just in case it happens.
If very little is known about the disease in question, tracing the path of transmission can tell you how the disease is spreading. Is it airborne? Does it live in the environment, or only within hosts? How long can it survive outside the host? Does it even spread from person to person, or were all those infected exposed to the same source, rather than one passing it to the other? Legionnaire’s disease is like this, it DOES NOT spread from person to person, it spreads through inhaling contaminated water vapor. So if a group of people get it, we can look to see what water sources they’ve been near, so that we can stop any more people from being infected by that source.
Edit: For more information, I recommend this book on a cholera epidemic in London, where epidemiological techniques were first pioneered. . . by a guy named John Snow. No, really! Here’s a Youtube series on the same topic.
If you want to stop an epidemic it’s important to know how it started. For instance, there was a cholera epidemic in London in the 1800’s that was eventually traced to a single contaminated public water pump. Shutting down that pump stopped the epidemic. If you have an epidemic that is spread person-to-person, finding the source can help pinpoint the root cause, so that you can stop it at the source.
Trying to find a cure for an illness is very difficult, trying to cure or treat it is like feeling around in the dark.
For that reason, two things are very important in developing a cure/treatment: patient zero and resistant/carrier patients.Patient zero helps give you a better idea of where it came from and how it is communicated. Knowing these things also helps you understand who’s most at risk and how best to limit infection. Resistant carriers are the most critical because they help you determine how the body can fight off the infection, and they tell you what kind of reaction you need to artificially create in the body to help fight it off.
Biocontainment team member here.
Helps to find out who has it, who the disease may have spread to and came from.Say you had a person from Sierra Leone that was Ebola positive, we’d have to know if they took a boat or plane, did they take a direct flight or did they drive after landing?
If they drove did they use a taxi or drive alone?Is the patient wet or dry? (Are try actively vomiting/sneezing/bleeding/diarrheaing or are they just experiencing initial signs and symptoms) gives us an idea how sick others may be.
PROTIP: don’t go to a hospital and pretend to have Ebola. I think it’s our safety measure to have you masked up within 5min, isolated within 7, and have EVS follow your walking path with a bleach mop.if you are just at a random hospital you will be sent to an assessment site to be evaluated if your hospital isn’t.
One more important thing to note is that the disease samples of P-Zero are likely to be the original mutagen. Considering how diseases adapt themselves according to the host or environs they find themselves in, it is important to know what the original structure of of microbe looked like. That way it is possible to simulate the possible mutations and find a base counter to all of them.