Ebola has been on the global radar the past few months and the current outbreak in West Africa continues to spread rapidly. As a part of the Feinberg School of Medicine’s Global Health Day, hosted by the Center for Global Health, a panel of experts from the university came together for a presentation and panel on the current state of the ebola outbreak.
Chad Achenbach, Assistant Professor in the Division of Infectious Diseases, started the presentation with foundational knowledge about the virus, describing how it started and how it continues to be transmitted. In 2004, he said, this particular strain of the ebola virus, EBOV, was circulating around animals. It remains unclear how it was introduced into humans in this outbreak. This is the largest outbreak of ebola in history, with 42% of the nearly 4,000 cases from the past month, he said.
The virus strain of the ebola outbreak doesn’t appear to be more virulent or have higher case fatality rates than other outbreaks- so, why does this outbreak have more cases than all other ebola outbreaks combined? As Achenbach described, unlike past outbreaks in more rural areas, this virus has made its way into dense urban areas, as a result of increased mobility of populations to move within countries and across borders.
The Center for Global Health at Feinberg is currently collaborating with a laboratory in Mali to test samples for the presence of the ebola virus. Of twenty samples received thus far in Mali, all have been negative. Achenbach anticipates this lab will be “active and very involved” in the coming months.
“It’s been done before. We can do it- it’s just going to be a massive effort,” Achenbach said in regards to controlling transmission.
After Achenbach’s presentation, the discussion was opened up to the panel, moderated by Robert Murphy, director of the Center for Global Health. Panel member Juliet Sorensen, Clinical Associate Professor at Northwestern Law School, described the role of the World Health Organization as that of a “global coordinator” to control the virus in the short term. However, the WHO is only as strong as its member countries, she described.
“Now is the time for the international community to step up,” Sorensen said.
Jennifer Chan, Assistant Professor of Emergency Medicine at Feinberg, identified communication as one of the greatest challenges in this outbreak. Difficulties arise not only in getting messages to local communities about what to do, but also in getting the communities to trust the messages they receive.
Mike Schmidt, also an Assistant Professor of Emergency Medicine at Feinberg, addressed the protocol of Northwestern Memorial Hospital’s Emergency Department in regards to ebola. Each patient is screened for travel history and potential exposure to the virus as part of the initial evaluation. Though no patients have presented at the hospital with the virus, Murphy described Chicago as a city with many travelers to and from West Africa.
“If the person had a travel history that was concerning, those patients would be placed in particular areas of the emergency department where we can isolate them,” Schmidt described.
Following the panel, a poster session showcased student research and projects in global health. In the evening, the Global Health Social Hour gave students and residents the opportunity to share abroad experiences and discuss project successes and challenges. On the Center for Global Health’s Facebook page, images capturing these travels are displayed as a part of a photo contest. Take a look at what the medical students have been doing and “like” your favorites to vote.