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Patient Zero

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Mexico City train passengers wearing surgical masks (Eneas De Troya/flickr/CC-BY-2.0)

The greatest mysteries have a shadowy figure at the center—someone who sets things in motion and holds the key to how the story unfolds. In epidemiology, this central character is known as Patient Zero—the case at the heart of an outbreak. This hour, Radiolab hunts for Patient Zeroes from all over the map.

We start with the story of perhaps the most iconic Patient Zero of all time: Typhoid Mary. Then, we dive into a molecular detective story to pinpoint the beginning of the AIDS, and we re-imagine the moment the virus that caused the global pandemic sprang to life. After that, we're left wondering if you can trace the spread of an idea the way you can trace the spread of a disease. In the end, we find ourselves faced with a choice between competing claims about the origin of the high five. And we come to a perfectly sensible, thoroughly disturbing conclusion about the nature of the universe ... all by way of the cowboy hat.


Kathy Gregory, Beatrice Hahn, M.D., Greg Harrell-Edge, Jonnie Hughes, Judith Walzer Leavitt, Jon Mooallem, David Quammen, David Rosner, Nolan Smith, Nathan Wolfe and Carl Zimmer

The Most Horrible Seaside Vacation

In 1906, a rich family vacationing in Oyster Bay, NY started to get sick. Very sick. It turns out they'd come down with typhoid, a disease forever associated with one woman: Typhoid Mary. You think you know this story, and we thought we knew this story too. But as producer ...

Comments [17]

The Cell That Started a Pandemic

In the early 1980s, epidemiologists were racing to understand a mysterious disease that was killing young men in California. As we now know, that disease was AIDS. And it soon grew into one of the biggest global pandemics in human history. But back in 1984, no one knew what it ...

Comments [40]

Contagious Ideas

We're left wondering, what would happen if you were to treat a good idea like an infectious disease? Could you trace it back to one individual, and one flash of insight? Jon Mooallem tells us about his quest to track down the origin of the high five--a story that starts ...

Comments [9]

Comments [80]

christina matuszeski from Wilson middle school

wow just wow this book is awesome but why would she chase they guy with a fork but i get it i dont like to do most stuff but i dont chase people with a fork

Mar. 06 2018 09:44 AM
Owen from USA Florida

my name is Owen Palmer i am so happy to share this testimony to the world because generally there are so many doubts about the cure of Hiv,and herpes This is real take it serious, i am so happy that today i can give this testimony to the world and also help in saving life of people who has been condemned for death just as i was ,who will believe that herbs can cure Hiv,and herpes completely from the body, i never believe that this will work, i have spend a lot of money getting drugs from the hospital to keep me healthy, it got to a time that all i was waiting for is death to come because i was broke and i already have strong outbreaks from the hpv, one day i was going through the internet asking questions online just to know more about the latest development in the medical sector to see if there is still hope then i stumbled on a post about this great man called Papa.Twins through a publicly made a testimony on how she was also cured of Hpv by this herbal doctor who is well known for his strong ancient herbal practice at first i doubted both the woman and the doctor just as so many that see's this post would doubt because medically it has been proven impossible but later i decided to give him a try so i emailed him I did not believe him that much, I just wanted to give him a try, he replied my mail and Needed some Information about me, then I sent them to him, he prepare herbal medicine and sent it through Courier Service for delivery, he gave my details to the Courier Office. they told me that 3-5 days I will receive the package and after receiving it, i took the medicine as prescribed by him at the end of 13days that the medicine lasted, he told me to go to the hospital for a test, and i went, surprisingly after the test the doctor confirm me Hiv, negative and herpes disappear i thought it was a joke, i went to other hospitals and was also negative the doctors were speechless and i said it was a miracle, thank you sir for saving my life even if you cannot see this post i shall never stop testifying the impact you made in my life by restoring back my life when i was being stigmatized and even avoided by family and friends , I promise I will always testify of your good works. Papa.Twins contact: PEACEHELPMEDICALCENTRE@HOTMAIL.COM.

Dec. 13 2017 01:01 PM
Rachel Moore from San Francisco

Thought of you guys and this episode this morning, since Glenn Burke is getting a plaque here, in the Castro!

Nov. 09 2017 12:06 PM
kelly from Ashland, OR

Oops, it was in the archives all along.

The same thing happens to me when I look for food in the fridge. The food isn't there when I look, but then my wife magically shows where it was all along.

May. 14 2017 01:43 PM
Kelly from Ashland, OR

Thanks so much for the work and time put into this episode. I use the Patient Zero episode as food for thought to my students when we are reviewing infectious diseases.

I have a question. The episode here in your archives does not match the episode with the update Soren Wheeler inserted during the Ebola outbreak of 2014. Can it be added? If I'm missing it, can you tell me where to find it?

The insert came about 43 to 44 minutes in the episode I saved on my phone, dated Nov 13, 2014. It is not included in the archived episode on-line.

Thanks so much for all you do, I'm one of your biggest word-of-mouth fans in southern Oregon.
keep up the great work,

May. 14 2017 01:31 PM
Sarah from London KY

I loved the show. I thought the way the story was told was interesting and kept me attentively listening. Looking forward to more shows in the future.

Nov. 30 2015 02:11 PM
JB from Colorado

Your show re: HIV, whether intentional or not, is another attempt in a long line of mis-informed reporting using disinformation and omissions about AIDS. HIV started in the lab with Luc Montagnier of the Pasteur Institute. The CDC storytellers needed a myth to sell the public to explain AIDS in Africa but also to confuse the issue after they abandoned the original correct diagnosis of the first gay men showing up in L.A. and NYC hospitals, as GRID.

HIV is a retrovirus!!!!! It is not a cytotoxic virus. Gallo knew this. Montagnier knew this. Retroviruses are 1000's of times smaller than cytotoxic viruses. Thy do not, I repeat they do not kill the cells they enter. And they enter cells RNA first (as opposed to infect them) to pass codes/information. This is why they earned the name retro. They are well known in virology as passenger or associated viruses and the body produces millions of them daily.

The only, I repeat the only reason they were pursued by viral researchers was because they caused tumors in some chickens (Rous sarcoma virus), and were because of this studied as a possible catalyst in cancer cell mutation in humans during Nixons, Virus Cancer Program. The program failed to show this true or possible for humans.

There is no monkey connection. AIDS in Africa is a lie. NO HIV TEST REQUIRED IN AFRICA!! Only observation of symptoms whose real causes are poverty...i.e.: malnutrition, unsanitary conditions, overcrowded living conditions, dirty water, open sewers etc. BUT match symptomatically the CDC's list of AIDS diseases.

AIDS was correctly GRID first. Gay Related Immune Deficiency. Retroviruses are harmless. It is the tests that are erroneous and false. None of the proteins in the tests are specific to LAV (Montagniers name) HTLV-1 then HIV (Gallos names). None. These non-specific proteins cross react with some 70 different conditions (sickness, flu, pregnancy, herpes on and on..... or other antibodies in our blood. All the results of these tests are false positives or false negatives. Test every month and you'll find this out. They are worthless! The test kits themselves proclaim that they cannot detect the HIV virus! ASK YOUR DOC OR CLINIC TO LET YOU SEE THE TEST INSERT!!!!

Start here:
The whistleblower who questioned AIDS in 1986 before anyone else. Why? Because he was the first molecular cell biologist who mapped the DNA/RNA of retroviruses studying them for cancer causation.
His book: "Inventing the AIDS Virus" Buy it. Read it. Of course Peter was immediately excommunicated from associating with his colleges, and his career was purposely destroyed by the NIH, CDC and everyone else whose interests in the boogieman virus HIV were of research $$$ and the pharma corps. immune killing drug AZT.

BTW, there are no Patient Zeros!!!! They made this mistake with Typhoid Mary as we know now many of us carry bacteria or other pathogens that can errupt ONLY when our immune systems are weak or compromised.

Nov. 30 2015 12:24 AM

The true issue lies with economics. Containment is often over ridden via money. Example the issue with SCARS after the lift of containment many others died

Jun. 21 2015 09:26 AM
Ace pops from Illadelph

Great episode, but I was disappointed that with all the talk of Typhoid Mary, you didnt include any music from Hail Mary Mallon. Their new album Bestiary is out now. Maybe include some of their tunes on a rebroadcast?

Nov. 25 2014 11:19 PM
Christopher Rouxel

This episode was great! It was so great impulsively clapped at the end!

Nov. 02 2014 03:05 PM
Dan from Michigan UP

I turned the station as I typically do when the show gets going. I love the information but I find the editing of sound bites unbearable. I guess that's what it takes to be "hip" in these times, eh? Too bad.

May. 13 2014 01:56 PM
James from USA

i am James Williams from Houston Texas. i want to share my testimony with you In 1985, at the age of 25, having heard so much about the 'HIV epidemic,' I decided to take the test. I tested positive. I went for a second opinion and again the result was positive. Since I had heard and read that the virus could be dormant for a long time, I opted to eat well, exercise, take high quality vitamins and limit 'risky sex.' However, my gut feeling was that something wasn't adding up with HIV, and I almost immediately chose not to accept the virus as a detriment to my health. "Throughout the years I've lived my life almost as if HIV didn't exist but still gathered information from various sources. then i saw this great Dr Miracle and contacted him with his email address Tel : +2348126076072 and i told him the problem i was facing and i know he can help because i have heard so much about him so he gave me some instruction to follow which i followed accurately and he assured me that once he help me to cast a spiritual spell on my sickness that i will healed with 48 hours and i had so much faith on him, he actually caste the spell on me and today i am back to my normal health i was tested and the prove it that i am HIV negative all thanks and appreciation goes to Dr Miracle for helping me to cast away my HIV virus. i would like all of you who have similar problem to contact DR Miracle today with his email address, or phone +2348126076072 so that he can help you to Restore your health back .

May. 12 2014 01:15 AM

I'm surprised that no one brought up the theory that aids was a man-made disease made for the purpose of population control and spread by what was called small pox vaccines, but in reality were a version of hiv/aids

Check out the youtube video called:
Don Scott, Part IV, Stealth Disablers and OspA/HIV gp120/41

May. 11 2014 08:55 PM
Living in Lockhart from Texas

Thank you for the HIV piece. I made another connection today and if it seems very strange, listen to Melanie Joy, Phd.'s video on carnism and/or take Dr. T.Coin Campbell couse on Plant Based Diets. Ok, the connection is that not only would this be a more peaceful world if humans did not eat meat, but there would have been no (possibly) transfer of monkey virus to humans. Dr, Campbell explains very well why our bodies should not eat animals- they are too similar to us. Your show helped make this even more clear. Fascinating! And, if the diet of the planet changes, we will have less to be concerned about as there would be fewer incidents of viral crossovers and mutations. I wonder if the people of Camaroon had a vegetarian diet before they started eating mammals.

May. 11 2014 02:28 PM
Leslie from Florida (God help me)

I love the "High Five" story. I appreciated learning aboutGlen Burke's. I'm saddened by his treatment and discrimination I love that the college guys that started the High Five myth have been moved to make up for their imaginative yarn by sponsoring a fund raiser. I don't think you can nail down the origin of this universal gesture. I was born and raised in Harlem (AKA Center of Black America and home to some iconic basketball players like Kareem Abdul Jabbar), NY in the 50's and 60's and I remember slappin' low AND high 5s back then and watching older men in my neighborhood doing it also. I'm not claiming a "first" but it might be another example of a minority stylish trait being appropriated by the majority society. And the French director may have known some the many black ex-pats artists that sought recognition and a break from American racism - then used the gesture that he had learned in his movie. I was a little disappointed to hear how you followed various trails to determine possible origin theories of the High 5 and then made your choice based on a sentimental feeling. I would have preferred that you acknowledge there's no (need?) for a definitive start while crediting all the contributor. Thanks.

May. 11 2014 12:18 PM
Heidi from Long Island

I'm shocked the "High Five" segment didn't at least mention the great Dick Shawn, High-Fiving in the Producers in 1968. I guess your story proves he wasn't literally the first, but he's certainly much earlier than Glenn Burke.

How is it possible that both the originators of National High Five Day and a reporter from The New York Times missed this? It's right there in a popular American movie, not to mention Wikipedia and IMDB...

May. 09 2014 06:54 AM
Shane Hooley from North Carolina

So I really liked the show, but all in all it was for a homework assignment that I still have to complete. I didn't really like the last 20-30 minutes because it had nothing to do with anything pertaining to diseases and how they are transmitted. It felt like a waste of time and I felt like they were going to get back onto the topic so I had to listen to the entire thing. Now it's almost 10 o'clock and I have school tomorrow and I haven't even started the post-audio show assignment yet. *Sigh*

Dec. 11 2013 09:42 PM

The segment on the sources of HIV was fascinating. I was a bit disappointed when Glenn Burke was referred to as "the gay guy." Apparently after all the research and interviews done about him, the hosts couldn't remember his name. Especially after explaining his tragic life after baseball, it sounded a bit demeaning.

Aug. 27 2013 09:15 PM
Mary from Tulsa

The HER and her colleagues thing really disappoints! I assume this was edited, so there's no excuse. In fact, your editing with layers and bits is so annoying I cannot listen to this show for more than a minute even when the topic interests me very much. Less would be more. Stop playing around, and strive to communicate.

Aug. 27 2013 01:35 PM
Germony from Milwaukee, WI

I love this one a lot. But it left me with a number of questions.
The origins of HIV if it traced back to mutating monkeys viruses. Why doesn't it seem to effect man that have sex with man more? Why not everyone equally?

Aug. 26 2013 01:32 AM

Does anyone know the name of the music that played during the monkey story toward the end of that segment at about 40 minutes in - it sounded like a really modern choral/orchestral piece based on How Great Thou Art, maybe?? Would LOVE to know who the artist is and what the piece was! PLEASE!!

Aug. 25 2013 04:01 PM

LOVED this show. It was interesting, entertaining, and fascinating. But, why why why did you guys say HIV virus numerous times? Human immunodeficiency virus virus? Argh!

Aug. 25 2013 01:45 PM
hpm from Colorado

About the high fives: If I heard correctly, you said that Jean-Luc Godard's film "Breathless" came out in 1955. It was 1960.

Also, if the high five is really a folk custom, you will never find its origin. It's like trying to find who first told the story of "the hook" or the "hatchet Lady."

Sweet story, though.

Aug. 24 2013 05:18 PM
Linda from Park Rose Heights

Interesting show.

I also wanted to note that I worked with my friend Randy Shilts the last few years of his life. In "And the Band Played On," Randy did not claim that Gaetan Dugas was The Patient Zero, rather he was an example of how diseases spread, A patient zero. The misconception that Dugas was The man who brought AIDS to America was a marketing ploy to get someone to pay attention to Randy's book. When Band was first published, Randy's editor said that no one would review the book. Once St. Martin's marketing department spread The Patient Zero story, Band was reviewed, became a bestseller and, subsequently, has been recognized (on many lists) as one of the 100 most important books of the last half of the 20th Century.

And one case that has always intrigued me is that of Dr. Tom Dooley, the Navy hero and founder of Medico. Dooley died of a mysterious skin cancer in 1961 at the age of 34. He was a gay man who was dishonorably discharged from the Navy in 1956 due to his homosexuality. In the 1950s, Dooley visited Dr. Albert Schweitzer several times. Schweitzer was working in the area of Africa that has been identified as the place where the virus may have crossed over to the human population. According a friend of mine who was Dooley's boyhood friend, Medico pilot and former lover, Dooley also spent time in several US cities where those (later identified) mysterious cases emerged in the late 1950s and early 1960s. I'm not intimating that Dooley had AIDS or that his mysterious skin cancer was KS, his former lover and I just found his untimely death to be an intriguing medical mystery. Imagine what Dooley could have accomplished had he lived another 30 years.

Aug. 24 2013 04:23 PM

Jad, Jad, Jad ... a Mac-Genius is not a license to poop all over English grammar by using an object pronoun in place of a subject pronoun.

SHE and her colleagues and NOT HER and her colleagues performed tasks.

C'mon man you are too smart, too educated to dumb your lingo down to the hoi polloi in a lame attempt to sound ... ugh ... cool.

Aug. 24 2013 03:54 PM
Karl Heidemann from Sioux Falls, SD

While I enjoyed and appreciated the Radio Lab piece, I found it contained a great deal of speculation that was, for the purpose of the story, accepted as fact, and then built further upon. And its overall thesis remains the the core of the larger "status quo" explanation for HIV/AIDS.

Edward Hooper's "The River: A Journey to The Source Of HIV And AIDS" offers some fascinating insight into, and an entirely different perspective on this topic. In this meticulously researched tome, many of the presumptions of the Radio Lab piece (and the status quo explanation) are dissected and discounted, and more defensible hypotheses proffered.

I do not, necessarily, agree with Hooper's conclusions, but his work stands, at the very least, as a caution for us to not believe everything we hear (or read).

Aug. 24 2013 12:40 PM
Garrett from New York

This is a really incredible episode and also my first. I think there is a lot of good information here! I hope that all the research also considered the other theories on the origin of HIV; as the monkey spillover disease origin is a theory and has not been completely verified. The unlikelihood of the virus hybrid surviving and turning into HIV has given rise to other research suggesting that the disease is human made for the human body even though it is technically a "young" disease. If this information can be the basis of another episode, give it a look because it too is an incredible story.

Aug. 23 2013 02:36 PM
cpig from Oakland

The song at the end is by a band called "the Supersuckers" its off their album "Must've been High"
Fantastic stuff- check it out.

May. 28 2013 04:05 PM
Cameron Shelton from Kansas City

Does anyone know anything about the guitar riff / music which begins at 49:28 and can be heard most clearly from 50:12 to 50:17? Thanks.

Apr. 04 2013 12:47 AM

Nice hypothesis about the origin of HIV... No one has mentioned the possibility of crossover into human populations via earlier, poorly prepared vaccines using many species of animal organs... has this been considered? And what would the liability implications be if... say a pharmaceutical company cut corners financially say in maintaining adequate refrigeration systems in developing country clinics... say in West and Central Africa and a new pandemic was a result... Just a thought.

Nov. 14 2012 12:06 PM
Martin from 94070

IT'S NOT HIV-Virus. It's just HIV (V=Virus)

Jun. 29 2012 03:12 PM
Martin from 94070

IT'S NOT HIV-Virus. It's just HIV (V=Virus)

Jun. 28 2012 08:46 PM
podiceps60 from Perth Austalia

but what is the guitar music at the end of this podcast Patient Zero?

Jun. 28 2012 06:12 AM
Daniel Halperin

Dear Radio Lab (and NO need to post this publicly, I'm just passing this on "FYI"): I think you have a fantastic show, and I enjoyed listening to the segment the other day on the viral history of HIV. Also, FYI much of the material seemed(eerily?) similar to our recently published book on the AIDS epidemic (Tinderbox; Penguin Press, 2012), and I wondered if perhaps that was just a coincidence? Anyway, no biggie, it was a good (and accurate) show... Thanks for airing it.... Sincerely, Daniel

Daniel Halperin, PhD
Adjunct Associate Professor
Gillings School of Global Public Health
University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

Jun. 07 2012 11:56 AM
Dan Buchan

No no no....the "high five" originated in Mel Brooks' 1968 film "The Producers" -- watch the Springtime For HItler musical and you'll see it, 7 years before Rocky Horror.

May. 27 2012 03:12 PM
michael from Hermosa, SD

I'm in the midst of listening to the "high five" story, hoping you mention this 1975 source of the high five, the Rocky Horror Picture Show:

Perhaps this movie helped popularize it, and the baseball player, Glen Burk(?) saw the movie?

May. 26 2012 12:58 PM
Sloppy Boggins from Toronto

And on the "high five" the volleyball reference is somewhat inaccurate as they do a "high ten". It is done in good or bad situations and often is just acknowledgment of each other to refocus for the next play. Most commonly seen when players sub in.
The only reason I think the "high five" and "high ten" should be distinct is because the "low five" is as equally similar yet vastly predates the others.

I can't believe I'm posting about this. :)

Apr. 28 2012 05:22 PM
Sloppy Boggins from Toronto

This is exactly the reason I enjoy this program. You take something as complex as AIDS and make it easily accessible.
My own look into the spread of HIV had also led to chimps when people were looking at me like I was crazy for suggesting that. But the "how" was more specific and somewhat sinister. Forgive me as my memory for the specifics has faded but there were people making vaccines, I'm pretty sure for polio, from chimps. There eventually became debate on their methods as they had to kill the chimps to access the material necessary to produce the vaccine. Despite this debate they continued to produce this vaccine in the same method and 'could' be the source for human infection.

Apr. 28 2012 03:26 PM
Colas from Strasbourg, France

This is a very interesting show. It is very entertaining but not enough scientific or critic to my point of view.
It would have been very informativ to speak about the HIV in itself and the difficulty of recognizing it (microscopy, molecular biology etc), the difficulty about HIV testing, the controversy around the aids statistics, the difficulty of linking HIV to AIDS, the effects of new antiretroviral drugs etc...

Mar. 11 2012 06:56 PM

Once again, fantastic work. I've listened to the AIDS story a dozen times now.

Dread Pirate Clinton from Montreal, if you're still looking for it, the network referred to in the AIDS story is in:

Auerbach D.M., Darrow, W.W., Jaffe, H.W, and J.W Curran (1984) Cluster of cases of the acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome-patients linked by sexual contact, American Journal of Medicine, 76, 487-492.

Jan. 26 2012 01:15 PM

Listening to the high five segment in "Patient Zero," I recalled biking late one night along 14th Avenue in Manhattan back in 2007. As I pedaled mid-block, a tall, jacketed man stepped out between parked cars to hail a cab. Without thinking, I rose out of the saddle and raised my arm to give his cab-hailing hand a high five. He shouted with delight. Thanks, Glenn Burke.

Jan. 21 2012 08:33 PM

can anyone give me a summary of this

Jan. 07 2012 04:36 PM

This story is soo COOL!!

Jan. 07 2012 04:22 AM
Landing7981 from Naples, FL

One of the best episodes I've heard. I recommended it to my family and they loved it as well. Keep up the great work!

Jan. 06 2012 05:32 PM
John from Indiana

Comparing Typhoid Mary's situation to the story of AIDS raises some disturbing questions about our "modern" way of dealing with pandemics. If simian aids was ever as fatal to chimps as HIV is to humans, it would have eventually wiped out all of the chimp population, except possibly for a few if they had some natural immunity, or were at least able to resist aids long enough to reproduce. Many of their offspring would have also had this resistance, some even stronger than their parents. In the course of evolution, their offspring would quickly come to dominate, while the others would die off (and the existence of these stronger individuals would be a hazard to the rest of the population, especially if they were only "healthy carriers", and not fully immune). Before modern medicine, that was the only way a species had to survive a pandemic of a fatal disease.

But when Typhoid Mary was found, we immediately quarantined her "for the safety of others". That means there was no way for her genes, which gave her natural resistance, to spread. Of course, today we'd study her genetics and biochemistry in the hopes of learning how to fight the disease, but it raises the disturbing issue that if that attempt failed, continuing to quarantine her would also mean giving up on a "last hope" option for keeping the human population alive.

Several years ago I read that a population of prostitutes somewhere in Africa had been found that seemed to have a stronger than normal resistance to HIV.

Dec. 10 2011 11:53 PM
Nate from Beaver Falls, NY

Is it just me, or are there the faint strains of the eerie screechy music from the shower scene in the movie Psycho at 35:53 where the Nathan Wolfe describes a chimp going after an organ of another chimp "that was a tasty morsel".

If so...kudos to you Radiolab......if not...score one for an over active imagination.

Dec. 09 2011 01:56 PM
AndrewD from Perth, Australia

This has to be one of my favourite episodes, alongside Parasites and Ooops. Oh, and all the others of course

Dec. 08 2011 02:13 AM
Nick from Detroit, MI

scratch that. 1960

Dec. 05 2011 11:16 PM
Nick from Detroit, MI

Breathless was 1959, not '55. Just FYI from a movie nerd.

Dec. 05 2011 11:12 PM
Beth Novey from Washington, DC

Perhaps chimps should get some credit for being the first high fivers?

Hand-clasp grooming!

Dec. 05 2011 12:10 AM
Cici from Philadelphia, PA

best. episode. ever. period.

Dec. 02 2011 04:07 PM
Claudia from Chiang Mai, Thailand

Almost five years ago, I lost the love of my life to complications from AIDS. My husband passed away and every day since, I have lived with a great loss. Listening to the HIV story, there are so many "what ifs" running through my mind, and tears running down my cheeks. A truly emotionally wrenching story. Thank you.

Dec. 02 2011 07:42 AM

This was one of those episodes that reminded me why I fell in love with RadioLab in the first place. The AIDS story was downright phenomenal.

Dec. 01 2011 12:44 PM
Gabriel Ramos-Fernandez

Although I normally like your show, I have to say that this one was pretty disappointing. First, the way in which you introduce the patient zero idea, using a contagion network as a visual aid, is misleading. One thing is to have a highly connected individual (which in the case of sexual contacts, could simply be a very promiscuous person) and another is to trace the origins of the disease, which could be traced back to a not necessarily promiscuous person. Second, while searching for the origins of a disease is definitely interesting, I find the high five story pretty silly - I mean, this gesture is so simple that it could have been used anywhere, multiple times, not necessarily being "invented" by anyone.

Nov. 29 2011 03:36 PM
Kim Butler

Here is a related interesting and sordid tale. Really worth a read, especially for Radiolab listeners who have heard Patient Zero.
I would LOVE to hear RL do a closer look at this guy...

Nov. 29 2011 01:46 PM

Rafael, the song is a variation of "Infinite Love" by Dustin Wong.

Nov. 28 2011 09:17 AM
Rafael from Jersey City

First: what is that song that comes in and out during minute 50 when Glenn Burke "invents" the high five?

Second: What a great episode! I'm always pleasantly surprised by episodes I click on out of strength of habit more than strength of interest. I thought the theme "Patient Zero" might be a bit heavier than I was in the mood for... but wow. Riveting. This is why tuning in has become a reflex.

Nov. 27 2011 02:31 AM
Jim from Lichfield, UK

slightly odd coincidence that if you use Roman numerals for the 5 in HI 5 its HIV. Tenuous I know, but a coincidence none the less!

Nov. 24 2011 07:18 AM
JonnyH from Seattle, WA

In the book "El Birdos" by Doug Feldman he puts forth the theory that Orlando Cepeda was patient zero for the High 5 back in the 1960's. Also in baseball! The book is about the 1967-1968 St. Louis Cardinals.

Nov. 23 2011 07:24 PM
Rick from Utah

It would be intriguing to hear about the patient zero of Chuck Norris jokes!

Nov. 23 2011 05:27 PM

Hail Mary Mallon = Aesop Rock + Rob Sonic. Makes sense now!

Nov. 22 2011 03:35 PM
super sovak from NY

I was surprised that "Deadly", the recent fictional revival of the Typhoid Mary character by author Julie Chibbaro was not mentioned.

Nov. 22 2011 01:51 PM
Matt from Fredericksburg, Virginia

If you enjoyed the segment about Gaetan Dugas, read more about Robert Rayford. Fascinating stuff! Well done Radiolab!

Nov. 22 2011 09:09 AM
Dan Frye

We all gonna act like that guy didn't know what Carbonite was?

Nov. 21 2011 03:04 PM

Robert from Bucharest, the song you are looking for is called Articulate Silences, by the band Stars of the Lid, from the album "And Their Refinement of the Decline". Highly recommended band. I wish Radiolab would give credit to the musicians who create the music they use.

Nov. 21 2011 09:37 AM
Susanna from Albuquerque, NM

As the child of an epidemiologist, I was familiar with Typhoid Mary's story from an early age--in fact, because I tended to harbor a strep throat (i.e., carry it but not get sick), my nickname was "T-Mary" (epidemiology humor).

I also learned from my father that fads spread in the same pattern as epidemics, and that both can be plotted on a bell-shaped curve.

Nov. 20 2011 11:52 PM
Peter from Mountain View, CA

In case anyone else wants to track it down, I found the high five from Breathless at 1:14:26 in the Google Video copy of Breathless at

Nov. 20 2011 09:41 PM
Robert from Bucharest, Romania

I came here looking for a one of the songs played during the podcast and I'm shocked to find there's no list of them.
I really want to identify the song that was played during the "High five" segment, when they all get teared up because the robotic arm works.
Can anyone please help? I know it's silly, but I would really appreciate any help.

Nov. 19 2011 09:35 PM
Christopher Murray from Ireland

To avoid disputes in a RadioLab episode decades hence, I would like to stake my claim here and now to being the originator of the heterodyne kiss.

Nov. 18 2011 04:09 PM

In regards to the Patient Zero Story and the spread of ideas - I guess you never heard of William S. Burroughs ideas as language as a virus ( or the Laurie Anderson Song derived from these ideas?)

Nov. 18 2011 02:39 PM

This episode (one of my favorite recent episodes) reminded me of the book Bellwether, by Connie Willis - a great book about the "patient zeros" of fads. It's a fictional book, and though it has a lot of interesting facts about fads, so don't read it expecting a factual answer to the question of where fads come from. But Willis' fictional hypothesis about the origin of fads is very interesting...

Nov. 17 2011 05:24 PM
Jim Marks from Houston, TX

I would encourage you guys to follow-up on some of those closing remarks about Darwin and the impact that his "Origin of Species" had on the prevailing narrative about "creation".

The contemporary "culture war" between evolutionary science and creationist religion is something which actually manifests _after_ Darwin's theory takes hold. Prior to 19th Century advances in biology and cosmology, the prevailing religious understanding of the first three chapters of the Book of Genesis were far less literal than what we think of as the "traditional" understanding today. That "tradition" is actually about 200 years old, at the most, probably far less. Much more ancient views on these passages are far less literal and experience the "truth" being conveyed as being far less about history (or pre-history) and far more about _purpose_ and _causation_.

In much the same way that you've shown how hard it is to find Patient Zero once certain compelling (almost always apocryphal) narratives become conventional wisdom, in the same way it can be very difficult to recover truly traditional religious perspectives once certain compelling replacements set themselves up as "fundamental" and "mainstream".

Almost nothing of contemporary, Protestant Christianity as it is practiced in the USA is actually "traditional" if you look at the history of the church and yet these views have a dominance in our culture that makes it seem impossible to imagine anything else as normative.

There have _got to be_ some good stories you could unearth in this area and Darwin may in fact be a good place to start.

Nov. 17 2011 01:33 PM
Dread Pirate Clinton from Montreal

Great episode!

Does anyone have a link to the original CDC AIDS diagram tracking the sexual history of the 30 or so patients?

Nov. 17 2011 01:07 PM
Seanzie from Asheville

That HIV investigation was the most fascinating and chilling story, beyond Biblical. It's the combination of scientific engagement and symbolism--the most terrifying and evil scourge of nature is something that originated with the consummation of inter-primate consumption! Chimps are definitely the Cain of the family.


Nov. 17 2011 07:38 AM
Stefan Wrobel from Los Angeles

I'll start by saying I loved this episode especially but two things annoyed me:

1) Complete emotional pandering by throwing in the robotic arm story. Seriously, what did that have to do with the origins of the high five?

2) You said when you started the high five story that it had nothing to do with diseases, but AIDS came up probably as many times as in the previous story! LIES!

Nov. 16 2011 03:04 PM
J G Luz

Oh radiolab, who else could ever convey the alchemical in the biochemical--geniuses, all of you!

Nov. 16 2011 11:26 AM
J G Luz

Oh radiolab, who else could ever convey the alchemical in the biochemical--geniuses, all of you!

Nov. 16 2011 11:25 AM
Jouko from Helsinki, Finland

I stumbled on Radiolab some time ago (via Krulwich's blog), and now after listening a number of episodes it's fair to say I'm thoroughly hooked. Thank you guys for such a fascinating, inspiring show! I will surely spread the word up here..!

Nov. 16 2011 10:13 AM
Daniel from Berkeley, CA

Poetic indeed. The whole interplay between mindfulness and the environment, it's just beautiful.

As always, thanks for the journey. Hi five!

Nov. 16 2011 12:36 AM
Lee Lee from Taos, NM

On cowboy hats: On a trip to Tibet, I was impressed that some Tibetans were wearing "cowboy hats". I commented on this to a friend, who said that it was in fact a very traditional design worn by Mongolians. It made me wonder whether the design was brought to the west from the Asians who worked on the railroads. I like the conclusion that it was designed by the environment & interesting the parallels between the American West and the Asian highlands.

Nov. 15 2011 04:41 PM

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