The recent outbreak in West Africa of the deadly Ebola virus has some U.S. officials concerned about it spreading to this country.
There is no vaccine to protect against Ebola and no medically-proven treatment for it. Its victims have less than a 50% chance of survival. Paul Keim is a world-renowned infections disease expert based in Flagstaff, Arizona. He says Ebola is handled only in medical laboratories with the highest level of protection. "Ebola is what we call a Category 4," says Keim. "There are 4 different levels of bio-safety in the U.S. system and it has to do with the risk assessment; whether there's a possibility the laboratory workers will stick themselves with a sharp object and then transfer bodily fluids in that way."
Keim is the director of Pathogen Genomics at the TGen North Laboratory. He says the ecology of Ebola is not well understood, but he calls it a disease of nature. It starts in wild animals and then jumps into the human population through infected blood, sweat and saliva. He says there's been a great deal of concern about bring several Americans back to the U.S.from West Africa where they became sickened during the current outbreak. However, Keim says, "I think it's actually one of the best things we can do. First off, these individuals then get the highest possible medical care. But, in addition to that, our healthcare workers get to directly observe Ebola cases, start applying advanced medical practices to them, and, hopefully of course, save their lives. In the process, they learn how to treat these cases and be able to do this for many more people."
Keim says modern cultures like the United States are far less likely to see Ebola epidemics start, and treating infected patients in Level 4 bio-safety facilities helps us better understand and manage the disease.