Noted Ebola Researcher Speaks Locally
WE’RE NOW IN WEEK TWO DEALING WITH THE “CLEVELAND CONNECTION” TO THE EBOLA THREAT. SINCE TEXAS NURSE AMBER VINSON VISITED THE AKRON AREA OCTOBER 10TH THROUGH THE 13TH AND LATER TESTED POSITIVE FOR THE DISEASE, THERE HAVE BEEN LOTS OF CONFLICTING – AND OFTEN CONFUSING – MESSAGES CIRCULATING THROUGHOUT NORTHEAST OHIO ABOUT JUST HOW MUCH WE SHOULD WORRY ABOUT VINSON’S VISIT.
WITH ME NOW TO HELP US SORT OUT FACT FROM FICTION IN THIS CONTINUALLY UNFOLDING STORY IS HEALTH PRODUCER KAY COLBY … GOOD TO SEE YOU.
Kay: And you as well.
Rick: So what’s the actual risk that Amber Vinson could have infected anyone during her visit or on her flight to and from Cleveland?
Kay: It’s really very low according to public health officials. I had the opportunity to attend a lecture sponsored by Case Western Reserve University with an international Ebola expert, Doctor Daniel Bausch. He’s consulting with both the World Health Organization and the CDC … plus has spent considerable time on the front lines fighting the disease in West Africa. His main point was that we need to take a step back and really put the concern and fear people have about this dangerous virus in the context of the science -- what doctors and scientists know about how it behaves. He – along with all the other public health officials – continue to stress this is a virus that is only transmitted to people who have direct contact with the body fluids of people when they are really, really sick.
Rick: Like Vinson and the other infected Texas nurse who took care of the now deceased patient from Liberia.
Kay: Exactly. And given that experts know Vinson had only a very low-grade fever – which means she was at the very early stages of her disease and was not vomiting or having diarrhea at the time of her visit or on her flights, Bausch says the risk of any secondary transmission from her is very low. That being said I think it’s important to recognize that most of what scientists know about how this virus behaves in humans comes from observations in the field in West Africa, for example. So what Dr. Bausch says now needs to happen -- and something he and others are now actively working on – is designing scientific studies to be done inside the lab to see the effect of the virus on various body tissues. That means taking samples from infected patients at different stages of the disease.
Dr. Daniel Bausch: Let’s swab their skin, their mouth, let’s take samples of their urine, their stool … if they have vomiting – their vomitus. And let’s really look at each stage doing this every day or every other day. So we can draw a curve, if you will, and say they have zero virus in this particular body fluid at this time and in day three it goes to this and in day 6 it goes to that.
RICK: Besides conducting these scientific studies … what else needs to happen and, more importantly, how much confidence should we have in the public health response to this potential threat given the handful of missteps so far?
Kay: That’s a really great question and exactly the one I posed to Dr. Bausch – should we be skeptical of the health system’s ability to respond to this given the fact two nurses were infected in Texas?
Dr. Daniel Bausch: I don’t think skepticism is the right word. I think this is uncharted territory for everyone. Have mistakes been made? Sure probably mistakes have been made but we’re all kind of working through it. So it’s not really useful in my opinion to throw stones … we have capable people working on this in CDC and elsewhere and we need to see – well this didn’t work out … this was an error and we need to fix that.
Kay: So Bausch gave some concrete things he’s now working on to avoid the mishaps in Texas. These include working with technology experts to design more “foolproof” protective gear for health care workers, as well as an effort to pursue a “swat team” approach which means should any other infected people turn up … a highly trained team of specialized health care workers will be dispatched to handle such cases. But for the time being, he said our most valuable tool boils down to education and communication. Public health officials have now identified and are in communication with more than 140 people that had any kind of contact with Amber Vinson on her flights or during her visit here. And that’s actually really good news because it means we have established a strong chain of contact. Unlike in Western African where people in the “chain of contact” of infected patients are often lost or never identified … we have the infrastructure in place to track down everyone who has had any contact with an infected person and take the appropriate steps.