I thought about writing this post last week, but it has captured nationwide headlines this week, often leading national and radio news. A prior post focused on Biosafety Level 4 laboratories that do research on untreatable, deadly agents such as Ebola.
As I speak, a long-range Gulfstream jet with a specialized isolation unit is evacuating two Americans from Liberia to Emory University’s specialzied isolation ward, in Atlanta, GA. These two medical professionals were in the country as medical missionaries. During their time, they developed symptoms of Ebola.
What is Ebola?
Ebola is a virus initially thought to be a variant of another lethal virus, Marburg virus. Initial signs and symptoms appear like the flu. After a few weeks, the patient dies from bleeding inside the body.
Viruses like these are found in rats and monkeys. Some hypotheses include that a human got bit by a rat, whose fluids (saliva) got into human blood, and spread among the healthcare workers who treated this person. The CDC website also notes some people got “infected by the virus, but did not become ill” from monkeys imported into the United States from the Philippines.
What’s so scary about ebola is that there is no known treatment. Because of this and that it can cause death, this agent is researched only in Biosafety Level 4 (BSL-4) laboratories. (My blog post on these labs is the most popular entry in this blog)
Spread of Ebola requires close fluid contact, but it is unknown why some people who are gowned and dressed exactly like others catch the disease and others do not. Because it requires close contact, people who usually get infected are healthcare workers caring for these patients as well as the patients close family.
Incubation time can be as long as 21 days. This means that someone can get infected and not remember it. Even worse, by the time he or she gets symptoms, the person may be half-way around the world. Can you remember people you’ve been close to for the past 21 days?
An “experimental serum” was given to both Americans. Basically, a child got Ebola and recovered. We don’t know why, but these two Americans with Ebola have been given parts of this boy’s blood. They suspect he has some sort of antibodies or protection against the virus, but they do not know for sure. Initially I heard a touching story that the doctor infected had treated this boy and there was only one dose of serum. When offered the serum he gave it to the other American. I have since heard today that both received the serum. So, there are conflicting reports about that out there.
Before you leave, make a note where these countries are in Western Africa. For Americans, everywhere that’s not in the United States seem so far away. There are some flights directly from the United States to these countries. Knowing that the whole world is closely connected through air travel, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has 20 quarantine locations, including at the Tom Bradley Terminal at LAX. Because incubation time can be as long as three weeks, people can be somewhere else in the world before they even develop signs and symptoms of the illness!
Be careful out there!
- Ebola Virus Disease on Wikipedia – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ebola_virus_disease
- Ebola Virus on Wikipedia – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ebola_virus
- Emory University’s role – http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2014/08/01/emory-will-wage-high-tech-war-on-ebola.html
- CNN on isolation unit – http://edition.cnn.com/2014/07/31/health/ebola-isolation-treatment/index.html?hpt=hp_t2
- CNN on evacuation – http://edition.cnn.com/2014/07/31/health/ebola-outbreak/
- Liberia on Wikipedia, including location – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Liberia
- CDC Travel Info on Ebola – http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/diseases/ebola
- CDC’s Ebola Page – http://www.cdc.gov/vhf/ebola/
- CNN Ebola (April 16, 2014) – http://edition.cnn.com/2014/04/16/health/gupta-ebola-ward/
- Sierra Leone doctor contracts virus – http://whnt.com/2014/07/26/chief-doctor-who-played-a-key-role-in-fighting-the-ebola-outbreak-in-sierra-leone-contracts-the-virus/
- CDC Quarantine Stations – http://www.cdc.gov/quarantine/QuarantineStationContactListFull.html
- Business Insider on Quarantine Stations – http://www.businessinsider.com/cdc-quarantine-stations-ebola-2014-8
- LA Times Q&A on Ebola – http://www.latimes.com/science/sciencenow/la-sci-sn-ebola-panic-q-and-a-20140801-story.html
- LiveScience on “Experimental Serum” – http://www.livescience.com/47156-what-is-experimental-ebola-serum.html
- USA Today on NIH vaccine trial – http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2014/07/31/ebola-vaccine-trial/13404609/
- CNN on NIH vaccine trial – http://edition.cnn.com/2014/07/31/health/ebola-vaccine-national-institutes-of-health/index.html?hpt=hp_t2
- Baylor Medicine on Ebola – https://www.bcm.edu/departments/molecular-virology-and-microbiology/ebola
- NBC News on Emory’s isolation – http://www.nbcnews.com/storyline/ebola-virus-outbreak/special-hospital-unit-readies-ebola-patient-n169951