June 13, 2014 12:00 PM
Tulane University experts are on the ground in Sierra Leone and Guinea in West Africa to respond to recent outbreaks of Ebola, a rare hemorrhagic fever with a high death rate.
“At this time there is no vaccine to prevent Ebola and no drugs to treat it, so really all that can be done for the patient is supportive care,” says Robert Garry, professor of microbiology and immunology at Tulane University School of Medicine and principal investigator of the Viral Hemorrhagic Fever Consortium.
“If patients receive fluids and get antibiotics to control secondary infections, that can make a major difference in whether they survive or not.”
Along with Garry, the Tulane team includes Lina Moses, field sites manager for the Tulane Lassa Fever program; and Dr. Dan Bausch, associate professor of tropical medicine in the Tulane School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine.
When Garry and Moses arrived at Kenema Government Hospital in eastern Sierra Leone in late May they brought 28 cases of personal protective equipment such as suits and face masks — essential gear for those caring for patients infected with Ebola, a highly contagious virus.
So far, all cases of Ebola in Sierra Leone have been epidemiologically linked to a single patient, a traditional healer who treated infected people who crossed the border from Guinea.
“We’re very worried about the virus getting into the capital of Sierra Leone, Freetown, which is densely populated. That would be a potentially very serious situation,” Garry says.
Garry and his colleagues have conducted research for the past 10 years at Kenema Hospital on another hemorrhagic fever, Lassa disease, which infects hundreds of thousands in Africa each year. A result is the development of a field kit for rapid diagnosis of Lassa, enabling doctors to respond to cases quickly.
“We’re working on vaccines and medicines for Ebola and other hemorrhagic fevers,” says Garry. “The solutions are coming.”
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