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World

Ebola's Ground Zero: Look Inside the Village Where Outbreak First Appeared

The Guinean village of Meliandou is believed to be where the latest outbreak started in December 2013, when a boy died from the virus.

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A child grabs food from a woman in the Guinean village of Meliandou, some 400 miles south-east of Conakry, Guinea, on Nov. 23.

The village is believed to be this current Ebola outbreak's ground zero. The official theory is that somehow the virus was transmitted from fruit bats to humans and spread through the region already plagued with bad roads, dense population, and a problematic health care system along a porous border that people used to cross regularly before the outbreak whether to join family or engage in trade.

Jerome Delay / AP
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Etienne Ouamouno sits in the communal room in Meliandou, on Nov. 20. Etienne's son, Emile is widely recognized by researchers as Patient Zero, the first person to have died of Ebola back on Dec. 28, 2013. And Meliandou, a small village at the top of a forested hill reached by a rutted red earth track, is notorious as the birthplace and crucible of the most deadly incarnation of the virus to date.

Jerome Delay / AP
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A villager holds the list of Ebola victims in Meliandou, on Nov. 20.

Jerome Delay / AP
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Kissi Dembadouno, center, is comforted by relatives outside his home in Meliandou, on Nov. 20. Demnadouno lost his wife, daughter and two grandchildren to the deadly disease. His son-in-law's son had the first reported case of Ebola in December 2013.

Dembadouno, 85, has locked the room in his house where the child died. "Eight people died in that room. It must remain closed," he said. "All that is left for me is to wonder why God gives me any more days on this Earth."

Jerome Delay / AP
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A young woman washes dishes in Meliandou, on Nov. 23. People here still believe that Ebola was disseminated by white people seeking the deaths of blacks, including through a measles vaccination campaign; by a laboratory testing bats to create a vaccination against the virus; by politicians from a rival tribe bent on killing off the forest people; by white miners looking to exploit a nearby mountain of iron ore.

Jerome Delay / AP
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Children listen to the village chief in the communal room in Meliandou, on Nov. 20.

Meliandou is a village of about 400 people — down from 600 last year, after dozens of young men abandoned it in the belief that the Ouamouno family or the entire village was cursed, according to the village chief. The village doctor, Augustin Mamadouno, was among the first to flee, and the clinic is shuttered and shunned as a place of death, not healing.

Jerome Delay / AP
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Children carry sanitization kits supplied by UNICEF in Meliandou, on Nov. 20.

Jerome Delay / AP
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An aerial view of Guinee Forestiere, the area some 400 miles south-east of Conakry, Guinea, on Nov. 14. Since the second phase of the Ebola outbreak, when the World Health Organization and others became more involved in containing and preventing the disease spread, swarms of experts from epidemiologist, infectiologists, biologists joined health care workers and anthropologists. These were brought in for a different purpose: to understand and translate the behavior and beliefs of some of the local populations.

Jerome Delay / AP
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