Recent Ebola Outbreak Highlights Need for Better Global Response
NIH Scientist Suggests Immediate Data Sharing, Regional Diagnostic Approach
In an invited perspective article on the Ebola outbreak under way in West Africa, Heinz Feldmann, M.D., Ph.D., of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) emphasizes the need for scientists to make their data available to colleagues in real-time to improve the public health response to outbreaks. He cites past responses to influenza and SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) outbreaks as successful examples of global information sharing. Rapid diagnoses are key to controlling outbreaks of deadly viruses such as Ebola, for which no therapies are available. The immediate availability of viral gene sequencing data, for example, can reduce waiting times for test results and help to determine whether established test methods will work or fail.
Dr. Feldmann conducts research on Ebola and other hemorrhagic fever viruses at NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID). Among other suggestions, he recommends that medical and public health staff in and near locations known to be endemic for Ebola be trained to assess infection risks and diagnose disease. Enhancing the capabilities of local laboratory workers would make test results available more rapidly by eliminating the need to ship samples to distant reference laboratories.
Dr. Feldmann and his NIAID colleague David Safronetz, Ph.D., explored this regional diagnostic approach while working with Malian health researchers and officials in April, after the nation reported 12 suspected Ebola cases. The NIAID group worked at the International Center for Excellence in Research, a partnership between NIAID and Mali’s University of Bamako, where they observed isolation procedures and showed local physicians how to handle Ebola specimens and test for disease. All of the suspected cases in Mali tested negative.
H. Feldmann. Ebola—A Surprise in West Africa? New England Journal of Medicine DOI: 10.1056/NEJMp1405314 (2014).
NIAID Director Anthony S. Fauci, M.D., is available for interviews. Heinz Feldmann, M.D., Ph.D., an expert on Ebola virus and chief of NIAID’s Laboratory of Virology, also is available.
NIAID conducts and supports research—at NIH, throughout the United States, and worldwide—to study the causes of infectious and immune-mediated diseases, and to develop better means of preventing, diagnosing and treating these illnesses. News releases, fact sheets and other NIAID-related materials are available on the NIAID Web site at http://www.niaid.nih.gov.
About the National Institutes of Health (NIH): NIH, the nation’s medical research agency, includes 27 Institutes and Centers and is a component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. NIH is the primary federal agency conducting and supporting basic, clinical, and translational medical research, and is investigating the causes, treatments, and cures for both common and rare diseases. For more information about NIH and its programs, visit www.nih.gov.
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