– ‘I was scared’ –
His insights are born of deep experience in the field, highlighted by his impressive CV and the mementos from around the world that dot his office in London.
Piot helped identify Ebola when the laboratory where he was working in Antwerp was sent a blood sample from a Catholic nun who had died in what was then Zaire and is now DR Congo.
From the blood, they isolated a new virus which was later confirmed to be Ebola.
He later went to Yambuku, a village in Zaire’s Equateur province, where an epidemic had taken hold.
“People were devastated because in some villages, one in 10, one in eight people could die from Ebola,” he said. READ: W. African nations in crisis talks as Ebola spreads.
“I was scared but I was 27 so you think you are invincible.”
Researchers noticed most of the infections were among women aged between 20 and 30 and clustered around a clinic where they went for pre-natal consultations.
It turned out that the virus was being transmitted through a handful of needles which were being reused to give injections to pregnant women.
There were also a string of outbreaks linked to funerals.
“Like in any culture, someone who dies is washed, the body is laid out but you do this with bare hands, without gloves. Someone who died from Ebola, that person is covered with virus because of vomitus, diarrhoea, blood,” he said.
“That’s how then you get new outbreaks and the same thing is happening now in west Africa.”