Answer: ENCHANTED PANACEA
Each of the five answers clues a transformation on words. For each transformation, one word is the result of said transformation applied to a disease.
|Answer||Transformation||Disease||Word in grid|
|ANAL BLEEDING||Append A, B, AB, or O to the end.||FLU||FLUB|
|BLINDNESS||Remove all I’s||POLIO||POLO|
|DISLOCATED TAILBONE||Move last letter somewhere else.||AIDS||SAID|
|TRIPLE DECAPITATION||Remove the first three letters.||MALARIA||ARIA|
|VOICELESSNESS||Replace voiced consonants with their unvoiced counterparts.||COLD||COLT|
The transformed word is “patient zero” for the transformation; the solver must apply that transformation to the adjacent words, and words adjacent to them, and so on, as far as it can spread. The below grid is the original puzzle, for reference:
This grid shows all words transformed, with patient zero in bold.
Note that in some cases a word is vulnerable to a transformation (for example, TRIPLE DECAPITATION could have affected PROFILE, leaving FILE) even though we do not show the word affected above. A word has to be adjacent to an infected word to become infected itself, as the transformation spreads like a disease. If the solver identifies all words vulnerable to a transformation, they will notice that most belong to one connected component.
There are sixteen “survivor” words which are unaffected. To see how they survived, metaphorically speaking, read off their first letters to get the answer, ENCHANTED PANACEA.