On the Trail of Ebola

My life as a virus hunter

Guido van der Groen

Photos

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Chapter 3

Guido takes a photo of the description of the "index" case in the mission’s diary. Yambuku, Zaïre 1976.

Entry in the mission’s diary describing the "index" case. Yambuku, Zaïre 1976.

Electron microscope images of the ebola virus.

Photo of deceased mission sisters Beata and Myriam

Photo of deceased mission sisters Romana and Edmonda

Photo of the deceased missionary Sango Germain Lootens

Chapter 4

Guido van der Groen at the Ngaliema Hospital. Kinshasa, Zaïre 1976.

Guido van der Groen in his lab at the Ngaliema Hospital. Kinshasa, Zaïre 1976.

Margaretha Isaacson and staff at the Ngaliema Hospital. Kinshasa, Zaïre 1976.

Daniel Courtois at the Ngaliema Hospital, Kinshasa, Zaïre 1976.

Guido had to set up his fluorescence microscope in a toilet at the Ngaliema Hospital, because this was the only space that could be properly darkened. Kinshasa, Zaïre 1976.

Guido's "stars" under the fluorescence microscope that he set up in the toilet. Kinshasa, Zaïre 1976.

Floral display. Kinshasa, Zaïre 1976.

Floral display. Kinshasa, Zaïre 1976.

Kongo River. Kinshasa, Zaïre 1976.

From left to right: Mr Colburn, Guido, Margaretha Isaacson, Peter Piot and Danny Courtois. Kinshasa, Zaïre 1976.

Margaretha Isaacson and Dr Raffier’s daughter. Kinshasa, Zaïre 1976.

Margaretha Isaacson, Kongo River. Kinshasa, Zaïre 1976.

Guido van der Groen, Leslie Welsh. Picnic at the Kongo River. Kinshasa, Zaïre 1976.

From left to right: Danny Courtois, Bill Close, Leslie Welsh and Joel Breman at the Kongo River. Zaïre 1976.

Ngaliema Hospital. Kinshasa, Zaïre 1976.

From left to right: Peter Piot, Margaretha Isaacson, Gust Seghers, Danny Courtois and Father Carlos at the mission of the last-named. Bumba, Zaïre, November 1976.

From left to right: Danny Courtois, Father Carlos, Gust Seghers, Guido and Peter Piot at Father Carlos’ mission. Bumba, Zaïre, November 1976.

From left to right: Margaretha Isaacson, Father Seghers, Danny Courtois, an unknown woman, Leslie Welsh and Peter Piot at Father Carlos’ mission. Bumba, Zaïre 1976.

Local population of Bumba, at Father Carlos’ mission. Zaïre 1976.

Guido in Bumba, from where one must drive another 150 kilometers to reach Yambuku. Zaïre 1976

In the centre, from left to right: Peter Piot, Joel Breman and Danny Courtois at Father Carlos’ mission in Bumba, on their way to Yambuku. Bumba, Zaïre 1976.

Guido at Father Carlos’ mission. Bumba, Zaïre 1976

Welcome to Father Carlos’ mission. Bumba, Zaïre 1976.

Sukato (nurse sitting upright). Yambuku mission, Zaïre 1976

Guido films a crucial phase of the Yambuku vs Yandongi football match. Yambuku, Zaïre 1976.

An unimportant and unforgettable scene. Yambuku, Zaïre 1976.

Colossal interest in the Yambuku vs Yandongi football match. Yambuku, Zaïre 1976.

Sure-handed keeper during the Yambuku vs Yandongi football match. Yambuku, Zaïre 1976.

Sleeping supporter during the football match. Yambuku, Zaïre 1976.

Karl Johnson and his secretary Leslie Welsh during the Yambuku vs Yandongi football match. Yambuku, Zaïre 1976.

Guido looks at his daughters’ drawings. Yambuku, Zaïre 1976

Guido at his flexible wall isolator. Yambuku, Zaïre 1976

Guido in the lab at the mission. Yambuku, Zaïre 1976

Close-up of Danny Courtois. Mission laboratory. Yambuku, Zaïre 1976

Guido poses with the IF-conjugate that lights up his little stars under ultraviolet light in the immunofluorescence microscope. Yambuku, Zaïre 1976

Guido with IF-conjugate in the laboratory of the Yambuku mission. Yambuku, Zaïre 1976

From left to right: Del Conn, Guido and Danny Courtois with IF-conjugate. Yambuku, Zaïre 1976

Guido at work in the laboratory at the mission. Yambuku, Zaïre 1976

Guido at work in the laboratory at the mission. Yambuku, Zaïre 1976

Immunofluorescence microscope to determine the result of the ebola antibody test. Mission laboratory, Yambuku, Zaïre 1976

In the mission laboratory Guido introduces sera to fixed ebola-infected cells. Yambuku, Zaïre 1976.

Guido in rhythmic transport on the Dua River. Zaïre 1976.

Guido during the boat trip on the Dua River. Yambuku, Zaïre, 1976

Joel Breman during the boat trip on the Dua River. Zaïre 1976.

The American CDC epidemiologist Joel Breman. Yambuku, Zaïre 1976.

Leslie Welsh during a visit to a village on the Dua River. Zaïre 1976.

Sister Geno visits a village during the boat trip on the Dua River. Zaïre 1976.

Welcome at Yambuku. Zaïre 1976.

Beautiful close-up during the boat trip on the Dua River. Zaïre 1976.

Guido with his musical friends. Yambuku, Zaïre 1976.

Guido and Sister Geno. Boat trip on the Dua River. Yambuku, Zaïre 1976.

Joel Breman on the Dua River. Zaïre 1976.

Guido with Sister Geno during the boat trip on the Dua River. Zaïre 1976.

Harvesting palm sap to make arak. Yambuku, Zaïre 1976.

Peter Piot drawing blood. Yambuku, Zaïre 1976.

Mike White drawing blood. Yambuku, Zaïre 1976.

Danny Courtois drawing blood in Yambuku, Zaïre 1976.

Yambuku, Zaïre 1976.

Visit of an epidemiological team to a village in the neighbourhood of Yambuku, Zaïre 1976.

Sister Marcella. Yambuku mission, Zaïre 1976.

Friend, colleague, Yambuku blood-brother and later boss at the ITM, Peter Piot. Yambuku, Zaïre 1976.

Standing from left to right: an unknown photographer, Sister Mariette, Stefaan Pattyn, Guido van der Groen, Peter Piot, Karl Johnson, Sister Marcella, Mike White, Danny Courtois and an unknown man. Sitting: Joel Breman and two unknown local members of staff. Yambuku, Zaïre 1976.

Sister Marcella. Yambuku mission, Zaïre 1976.

Guido and friends in Yambuku. Zaïre 1976.

Sister Genoveva among her beloved people at the mission. Yambuku, Zaïre 1976.

The French hematologist Danny Courtois. Yambuku, Zaïre 1976.

Sister Mariette. Yambuku, Zaïre 1976.

Guido with Karl Johnson. Yambuku, Zaïre 1976.

Commission leader Karl Johnson and his secretary Leslie Welsh. Yambuku, Zaïre 1976.

From left to right: Sister Marcella, Stefaan Pattyn, Sister Geno, Sister Mariette. Yambuku, Zaïre 1976.

Sisters Genoveva (left) and Marcella of the Holy Heart of Maria of 's-Gravenwezel keep up people’s courage. Sister Geno is – among many other things - the 'announcer' of Guido's TV station. Sister Marcella is the nun who noted all epidemiological information before the commission members arrived in Yambuku, Zaïre 1976.

Guido and Joel Bremman, Yambuku, Zaïre 1976.

Sister Marcella shares food donated by the mother of President Mobutu. The ebola outbreak paralysed the region’s economy. Yambuku, Zaïre 1976.

Sister Marcella during food distribution. Yambuku, Zaïre 1976.

Marking patients who have survived ebola. Yambuku, Zaïre 1976.

The signs of patients who have survived ebola. Yambuku, Zaïre 1976.

Above the clouds the sun still shines, even on the return flight of the DC-10 from Kinshasa to a wintry Brussels, 1976.

In the cockpit of the DC-10 carrying Guido back from Kinshasa to Brussels, 1976.

Rigid wall isolator at the CDC. Atlanta, US, 1977.

CDC Maximum security lab. Atlanta, US, 1977

Jim Lange at the CDC. Atlanta, US, 1977.

Guido at the CDC. Atlanta, US, 1977.

Jim Lange, Guido’s instructor at the CDC. Atlanta, US, 1977.

Guido in training at the CDC. Atlanta, US, 1977.

Microscope at the CDC. Atlanta, US, 1977.

Guido at work in a rigid wall isolator in the MSL-4 laboratory of the CDC in Atlanta, US, 1977.

Guido at work in a rigid wall isolator in the MSL-4 laboratory of the CDC in Atlanta, US, 1977.

New type of MSL inside which you can move freely in a plastic suit under positive pressure. The air hoses are hanging ready for use. CDC Atlanta, US, 1977.

Inlet port connector to let oxygen flow into the suit. Atlanta high security lab, 1977/1978.

At the CDC, Guido prepares to step into his pressure suit, Atlanta high security lab, 1977/1978.

Guido in his pressure suit busy working in a laminar flow cabinet at the CDC. Atlanta, US, 1977.

Stan and Dottie Foster, globetrotters and world champions in hospitality.

The whole Foster family in 2015.

Stan Foster, the man who played a significant role in the eradication of smallpox.

The container in which astronauts Armstrong, Aldrin, and Collins were quarantined after the first moon landing. The CDC bought it from NASA to accommodate any member of the commission who might have been infected with ebola. CDC, Atlanta, US, 1977.

Detail of the CDC’s 'astronaut container'. Atlanta, US, 1977.

ITM painter Herman Depuydt. Construction and commissioning of the maximum security laboratory (MSL). Antwerp, 1977.

ITM staff member Wim Wagemans. Making the maximum security laboratory airtight. Antwerp, 1977.

ITM staff member Walter Gentjens. Construction and commissioning of the maximum security laboratory. Antwerp, 1977.

ITM staff member Walter Gentjens. Construction and commissioning of the maximum security laboratory. Antwerp, 1977.

ITM staff member Wim Wagemans. Background: PhD student Awad El Mekki who worked through the alterations. Construction and commissioning of the maximum security laboratory. Antwerp, 1977.

An ITM staff member with Mr Peel who harvests cells during the alterations. Construction and commissioning of the maximum security laboratory. Antwerp, 1977.

Workmen at the ITM. Marcel Debeuckelaer (electrician), Maurice in the background. Construction and commissioning of the maximum security laboratory. Antwerp, 1977.

ITM staff member Ferdinand Van Asse. Construction and commissioning of the maximum security laboratory. Antwerp, 1977.

ITM staff member Robert Lezaire. Construction and commissioning of the maximum security laboratory. Antwerp, 1977.

Hugo De Groof and secretary. Construction and commissioning of the maximum security laboratory. Antwerp, 1977.

Staff members of Vickers Medical (the English supplier of the isolator) installs the airtight connections. Maximum security laboratory. Antwerp, 1977.

Floor plan of the MSL. Maximum security laboratory. Antwerp, 1977.

Sketch of the air circulation in the MSL, crucial for the safety of laboratory staff, the people in the rest of the building and city, and the scientific value of the samples and the investigation thereof. Maximum security laboratory. Antwerp, 1977.

Isolator design. 10 is an incubator on casters and 14 is a small refrigerator to keep reagents cool. Maximum security laboratory. Antwerp, 1977.

Vickers-isolator

View of the cathedral from the laboratory. Construction and commissioning of the maximum security laboratory. Antwerp, 1977.

To prevent contaminated air escaping in the case of damage, the interior of the isolator is kept at a low pressure. The higher air pressure in the laboratory pushes the flexible plastic film that forms the walls, visibly inwards. Maximum security laboratory, Antwerp, 1977.

Apparently unimportant details such as an armrest can determine whether you can work comfortably and thus safely in an isolator. An isolator without support for the arms is like a bird with clipped wings. Maximum security laboratory, Antwerp, 1977.

Connection between two isolators. Construction and commissioning of the maximum security laboratory. Antwerp, 1977.

Observation of culture flasks under a microscope; flasks inside the isolator and microscope outside. Construction and commissioning of the maximum security laboratory. Antwerp, 1977.

Microscope. Construction and commissioning of the maximum security laboratory. Antwerp, 1977.

Autoclave and extraction unit with two HEPA-filters. Maximum security laboratory. Antwerp, 1977.

Freezer beneath the isolator. Construction and commissioning of the maximum security laboratory. Antwerp, 1977.

Stored material from the isolator inside the freezer, (outside the isolator). Construction and commissioning of the maximum security laboratory. Antwerp, 1977.

Link with the outside world. Construction and commissioning of the maximum security laboratory. Antwerp, 1977.

Operation of autoclave water tank. Construction and commissioning of the maximum security laboratory. Antwerp, 1977.

The air exiting the isolator is filtered twice before it leaves the MSL. Maximum security laboratory. Antwerp, 1977.

Low pressure control for the MSL’s isolators. As time passes the filters through which the exhaust air is sucked become dirtier and extra suction is required to maintain the low pressure . Maximum security laboratory. Antwerp, 1977.

Greet Beelaert enters the first airlock. Construction and commissioning of the maximum security laboratory. Antwerp, 1977.

Greet Beelaert switches on the mobile intercom. Construction and commissioning of the maximum security laboratory. Antwerp, 1977.

Greet Beelaert. Checking equipment. Construction and commissioning of the maximum security laboratory. Antwerp, 1977.

Greet Beelaert checks the low pressure in the isolator. Maximum security laboratory, Antwerp, 1977.

To place an object in the isolator the mouth of a new plastic bag containing it is stretched over the transfer port, making certain from the outside that the seal is airtight. The sealed end of the previous bag protrudes into the isolator. The new bag is then pushed into the isolator, within which the closed end of the previous bag is opened. The object is now inside the isolator, which has remained airtight throughout the procedure. Maximum security laboratory, Antwerp, 1977.

The nozzle of an ampule is heated with a soldering iron in the isolator. Maximum security laboratory, Antwerp, 1977.

Melting an ampule closed with adapted Kocher forceps. Maximum security laboratory, Antwerp, 1977.

Sealing an ampule in the flexible wall isolator. Maximum security laboratory, Antwerp, 1977.nozz

An object is removed from the isolator by placing it inside a plastic bag that has its mouth secured to the transfer port. As the object is pushed out through the port, the bag reverses to contain it. The end of the bag containing the object can then be melted closed using a bag sealer, and cut off. Maximum security laboratory, Antwerp, 1977.

Greet Beelaert. Sealing off used materials. Construction and commissioning of the maximum security laboratory. Antwerp, 1977.

Greet Beelaert. Melting the transport bag closed outside the isolator in order to remove materials. Construction and commissioning of the maximum security laboratory. Antwerp, 1977.

Greet Beelaert. sealing and melting the transportbag close during the removal of material from the isolator. Construction and commissioning of the maximum security labaratory. Antwerp 1977.

Greet Beelaert, sealing off used materials, Construction and comissioning of the maximum security laboratory, Antwerp 1977

Putting a waste bin in the autoclave. Maximum security laboratory. Antwerp, 1977.

A double pair of gloves to handle material removed from the isolator, is no superfluous luxury. Maximum security laboratory, Antwerp, 1977.

Removing ampules from a plastic bag. Maximum security laboratory, Antwerp, 1977.

Drying ampules. Maximum security laboratory, Antwerp, 1977.

Working in a laminar flow cabinet, a partly open work space in which the air flows such that no dust particles, viruses or bacteria settle on the samples. At the same time the risks to the worker or researcher are limited. Maximum security laboratory, Antwerp, 1977.

A small box is placed in a container for safe storage in the deepfreeze. Maximum security laboratory, Antwerp, 1977.

The chest deepfreeze of the MSL must of course be lockable. Maximum security laboratory, Antwerp, 1977.

Greet Beelaert adds to the virus inventory list. Maximum security laboratory, Antwerp, 1977.

Intercom to ensure contact between the normal laboratory and the MSL. Greet Beelaert. Construction and commissioning of the maximum security laboratory. Antwerp, 1977.

In Atlanta Guido learned that all procedures and activities of a maximum security laboratory must be noted in a logbook. Note the progressive spelling of those days! Antwerp, 1977.

Cartoon drawn by Guido: a MSL is the best form of prevention against sexually transmitted diseases. Maximum security laboratory, Antwerp, 1977.

Cartoon drawn by Guido, who was already dreaming about a more modern version of his MSL. 'May God watch over the constant air supply to our positive pressure suits.' Maximum security laboratory, Antwerp, 1977.

Cartoon drawn by Guido: the 'Micro High Security Plastic Bag Laboratory' with Stefaan Pattyn and Guido in the chief roles. Maximum security laboratory, Antwerp, 1977.

On a ferry, journeying from Yalosemba to Tandala, Zaïre, 1979.

The mission. Tandala, Zaïre, 1979.

Due to the tropical temperatures during dissection, Guido’s protective clothing is reduced to a minimum. Tandala, Zaïre, 1979.

Clerical oversight for Guido during the dissection of a monkey. Tandala, Zaïre, 1979

The Swiss biologist Florian Meier and a Zaïrean assistant label all specimens with the scientific name of the animal in question. Tandala, Zaïre, 1979.

Scientific work isn’t always to one’s taste. A decapitated monkey is skinned carefully, so that the pelt can be dried and sent to the US for further investigation and identification. Tandala, Zaïre, 1979.

In the tropical heat, with the additional warmth of a disinfecting flame, Lynn Robbins sweats buckets during the dissection of a land turtle (tortoise). Tandala, Zaïre 1979.

Guido (left) and Florian Meier (right) at work.

Brian Robbins works with a passion in a corner of the church, generously put at our disposal by Father Willy Daem. In the background one can see some of the Stations of the Cross. Tandala, Zaïre, 1979.

Each animal is measured precisely. In the background the container with liquid nitrogen in which Guido keeps his specimens in order with his original nylon stocking system. Tandala, Zaïre 1979.

Guido with Mark Szczeniowsky. Tandala, Zaïre 1979.

How do you dissect a land turtle (tortoise)? With a hacksaw! Guido in Tandala, Zaïre 1979.

Front left: Lynn Robbins. Sitting at back: Florian Meier. In the middle, with checked shirt: Patricia Webb. Tandala, Zaïre 1979.

A sister of the mission delivers drugs. Tandala, Zaïre, 1979.

Guido at work. In front the container with liquid nitrogen. The big round apparatus in the background is a centrifuge. Yambuku 1976.

Mark Szczniowsky enquires about the local names of animal specimens. Tandala, Zaïre 1979

After the dissection animals of interest for further taxonomic or biological investigation are tied up tightly and readied for transport to the US. The possible local names for the animals are added to the dossier. Tandala, Zaïre 1979.

The Robbins brother with the “volleyball net” bat trap. Tandala, Zaïre 1979.

Brian Robbins, Karl Johnson, Father Willy Daem and Florian Meier. Tandala, Zaïre 1979.

Biologist Lynn Robbins with pangolins, stored with great care on suitable trays. Tandala, Zaïre 1979.

A crocodile is anaesthetized with chloroform and dissected (which is better done when its heart is still beating). After the dissection it is prepared for eating. Tandala, Zaïre 1979.

Warning - dissection of a monkey – image could disturb some viewers.
The animal’s intestines are intact. The hunters must hit the animals in the head or ribcage and not in the belly, otherwise the risk of bacterial contamination of the liver or lungs is too great to harvest usable samples. Tandala, Zaïre, 1979.

The skeletons swarm with flies which eat them clean, so that they can be sent to the US for identification. Tandala, Zaïre, 1979.

A crocodile is anaesthetized with chloroform and dissected (which is better done when its heart is still beating). After the dissection it is prepared for eating. Tandala, Zaïre 1979.

The four-toed elephant shrew (Petrodromus tetradactylus). Tandala, Zaïre, 1979.

The dazzlingly beautiful and evidently tame white-bellied kingfisher (Corythornis leucogaster). Tandala, Zaïre 1979.

A potto (Perodicticus potto), a slow, lumbering prosimian with woolly fur. Its small hands are striking, with a rudimentary index finger and an opposable thumb, giving it an excellent grip on branches. Tandala, Zaïre, 1979.

Due to its hard, horny scales that overlap like roof tiles, an African tree pangolin (Phataginus tricuspis - formerly Manis tricuspis) is not simple to dissect! Tandala, Zaïre, 1979.

As a reward the best animal supplier of the week receives a polaroid photo of himself with the WHO jeep as decor. The people could not believe their eyes when they first saw such a photo coming out of that little box. Tandala, Zaïre 1979.

Close-up of the winner. Tandala, Zaïre 1979.

Beautiful close-up. Tandala, Zaïre 1979.

Together at the table. The man at left looking into the lens is Mark Szczeniowski. Next to him, from left to right: Karl Johnson, Father Willy Daem, Guido, an unknown colleague, Lynn Robbins and Brian Robbins. Tandala, Zaïre 1979.

Burning contaminated material. Tandala, Zaïre 1979.

Karl Johnson and Father Willy Daem. Tandala, Zaïre 1979.

From left to right: Mark Szczeniowsky, Father Willy Daem, Karl Johnson and two Zairean friends. Tandala, Zaïre 1979.

Father Willy Daem and Guido at the spring balance with which the animals were weighed. Tandala, Zaïre 1979.

Karl Johnson, a Zairean friend and Father Willy Daem. Tandala, Zaïre 1979.

Karl Johnson during the opening of the BSL4-laboratory in Johannesburg, South Africa, 1979.

Karl Johnson is also among the party during Guido and Dina’s first safari, in the Kruger Park. Karl’s telephoto lens is so powerful it could even snap impalas on the moon! South Africa, 1979.

Guido's wife Dina during the opening of the BSL-4 laboratory in Johannesburg, South Africa, 1979.

Six different bat species. Tandala, Zaïre 1979.

The wingspan of fruit bats varies from 24 to 180 cm! Tandala, Zaïre 1979.

The market of Batouri. South-east Cameroon 1980.

Bulldozer carves a road through the jungle, a “highway” for “new zoönoses”. Ebola research among pygmies. South-east Cameroon 14-29 February 1980.

Tanking up with gasoline on the “black market” at Yokadouma. Ebola research among pygmies. South-east Cameroon 14-29 February 1980.

The luxury accommodation that the pygmies constructed especially for the expedition members in Mbatika. South-east Cameroon 1980.

Mbatika. Inside our “luxury accommodation”. Ebola research among pygmies. South-east Cameroon 14-29 February 1980.

Mbatika. Construction of our “field laboratory”. Ebola research among pygmies. South-east Cameroon 14-29 February 1980.

Arrival and unpacking at the pygmy village Mbatika. Ebola research among pygmies. South-east Cameroon 14-29 February 1980.

Mbatika. Primitive toilet. Ebola research among pygmies. South-east Cameroon 14-29 February 1980.

Dave Heymann, village chief Sassi and John Krebs. Mbatika, Cameroon 14-29 februari 1980.

Mbatika. Ethleen Smith. Ebola research among pygmies. South-east Cameroon 14-29 February 1980.

In the villages animals are collected regularly amid much attention. Ebola research among pygmies. South-east Cameroon 14-29 February 1980.

Dave Heymann, epidemiologist, CDC USA. Collection of animals in the villages. Ebola research among pygmies. South-east Cameroon 14-29 February 1980.

Expedition coordinator Dave Heymann of the CDC. Ebola research among pygmies. South-east Cameroon 14-29 February 1980.

A duiker antelope killed for research is carried on the roofrack of Dave Heymann’s old Peugeot to the field laboratory in Mbatika. Ebola research among pygmies. South-east Cameroon 1980.

Ebola research with pygmies. South-east Cameroon 14-29 februari 1980.

Construction of a banda or traditional pygmy hut in the heart of the jungle. South-east Cameroon 1980.

Traditional bandas of pygmies who have not yet given up their nomadic existence. South-east Cameroon 1980.

The smoke and smell of a slow-burning wood fire is pervasive among the pygmies in the jungle and elsewhere in undeveloped areas of Africa. South-east Cameroon 1980.

Nomadic pygmies build their traditional 'banda' within a day. South-east Cameroon 1980.

Pygmies looking for a suitable place to build a banda, near water. They are rooting in the ground for tubers. South-east Cameroon 1980.

Pygmies dam a small river to catch fish. South-east Cameroon 1980.

Ethleen Smith among the pygmies. South-east Cameroon 1980.

Chapter 7

From left to right: Guido's wife Dina, Guido, Ilse’s youngest daughter Jana, Guido and Dina's youngest daughter Sonja, Ilse’s oldest daughter Lore, Guido and Dina's oldest daughter Ilse, Jana's father Stefaan and Sonja's partner Michel on safari. South Africa 2013.