Charles Monet: Ebola Patient Gets Virus From Cave

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Who is Charles Monet the Ebola patient? How did Charles Monet get Ebola and what happened during the outbreak?

Charles Monet, an Ebola patient living in Western Kenya, is believe to have contracted the disease directly from Kitum Cave, a place where many believe the virus lay dormant, waiting for a host. Monet then became ill, and spread the virus.

Read more about Charles Monet, Ebola, and how the outbreak spread.

1980: The Case of Charles Monet the Ebola Patient

In 1980, Charles Monet, a French expatriate living in Western Kenya, spent New Year’s Day exploring Kitum Cave with a friend. A week later, he began getting sick. 

The cave holds a petrified rainforest from a volcanic eruption seven million years ago, and the petrified rocks are surrounded by sharp crystals made of minerals. Additionally, the cave’s surfaces are coated with elephant dung and the excrement of both fruit- and insect-eating bats. Monet could’ve easily scratched himself on a sharp rock or crystal, exposing him to viruses in the animal dung.

Charles Monet’s Ebola symptoms began soon after. First, got a throbbing headache. In the following few days, he developed other symptoms, including:

  • Aching, bright red eyeballs
  • Aching temples
  • Severe backache
  • Intense vomiting and dry heaves
  • Lifeless, expressionless face with drooping eyelids
  • Yellowish skin on his face, speckled with bright red spots
  • Personality changes, becoming more hostile 
  • Memory loss, despite being lucid

After several days, Monet’s coworker took him to a nearby hospital. The doctors didn’t recognize the illness, nor did they know how to treat it. When antibiotics didn’t help, they suggested he go to the best private hospital in East Africa, Nairobi Hospital. Sick as he was, Monet was still lucid and mobile, so he got in a taxi and headed to the airport. 

As soon as Monet boarded the flight, he unknowingly exposed the world to the virus: He was in a cramped, probably full plane with people from anywhere in the world, traveling to anywhere in the world. Modern air travel routes make it possible for a disease to spread anywhere in the world within 24 hours. 

Charles Monet’s Ebola Symptoms Intensify

During the flight, Charles Monet’s Ebola symptoms worsened. They included: 

  • Bruises covering his face and head, where the red spots had previously been 
  • Sagging facial muscles, as his face’s connective tissue dissolved
  • Blood clots in his head, hands, feet, lungs, liver, intestines, and kidneys
  • Brain damage from blood clots in his brain, resulting in an erasure of personality called depersonalization
  • Loss of higher brain functions as parts of his brain liquefied, leaving only more primitive parts of his brain intact 
  • Incessant nosebleed, as his body had used all the clotting factors to create the blood clots
  • Black vomit

The black vomit was a sign that Monet was experiencing extreme amplification, meaning the virus had multiplied so extensively that it inhabited every part of the body, from skin to brain. The virus was literally taking over its host. By this point, even a drop of Monet’s blood may have had a hundred million particles of the virus, and the black vomit itself was heavily laden with the virus. 

Still able to walk, Monet got off the plane, into a taxi, and headed to Nairobi Hospital. As he sat in the waiting room, he entered the final phase—what military biohazard specialists call “crashing and bleeding out.” This entailed:

  • Dizziness and weakness, as his spine lost strength and feeling 
  • Losing consciousness
  • Shock 
  • Vomiting blood and black material, even after he was unconscious
  • His bowels opening and releasing a mixture of intestinal lining and blood from his anus

Monet laid sprawled on the floor of the waiting room in a pool of blood. The virus had nearly killed its host, and now it had to find a new host in order to survive. 

The Virus Jumps Hosts

The nurses wheeled Monet—barely alive—into the intensive care unit, where a young doctor named Shem Musoke inspected him. 

Musoke had no idea what kind of illness this was, but his first priority was to help Monet breathe, which was becoming increasingly difficult as he hemorrhaged and his airways filled with blood and mucus. Without wearing gloves, Musoke put his finger in Monet’s mouth to clear the blood and mucus so he could insert the laryngoscope. 

As Musoke leaned close to Monet’s face, peering down his throat, Monet spewed black vomit all over Musoke, the gurney, and the floor around them. Bits of vomit landed in Musoke’s eyes and mouth. 

Musoke got Monet breathing again, but Monet was losing so much blood that his blood pressure was plummeting. Musoke attempted to give him a blood transfusion, but each time he tried inserting the needle, Monet’s vein gave way and blood came pouring out, unable to clot. At the same time, Monet continued to hemorrhage from his bowels. 

Monet fell deeper into a coma and died hours later. As doctors performed the autopsy, Monet’s body looked like it had been dead for days, not hours. Monet’s liver was yellow and partially liquefied, and his intestinal lining had shed—both of which are common in days-old corpses. 

Charles Monet: Ebola Patient Gets Virus From Cave

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Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best summary of Richard Preston's "The Hot Zone" at Shortform.

Here's what you'll find in our full The Hot Zone summary:

  • The many different strains of Ebola, including the deadliest kind with a kill rate of 90%
  • How scientists unraveled the mystery of a new strain of Ebola
  • How Ebola could become airborne, becoming one of the deadliest viruses known

Carrie Cabral

Carrie has been reading and writing for as long as she can remember, and has always been open to reading anything put in front of her. She wrote her first short story at the age of six, about a lost dog who meets animal friends on his journey home. Surprisingly, it was never picked up by any major publishers, but did spark her passion for books. Carrie worked in book publishing for several years before getting an MFA in Creative Writing. She especially loves literary fiction, historical fiction, and social, cultural, and historical nonfiction that gets into the weeds of daily life.

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