U.S. better prepared for Ebola now

The U.S. has a strong understanding of how Ebola spreads, which helps medical professionals know what to do to prevent more cases and to treat infected patients who come to the country. 

“In terms of natural introduction, we are very much in a position to handle Ebola,” Dr. Michael Kurilla, director of the Office of Biodefense Research Resources and Translational Research at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told BioPrepWatch in a recent interview.

After initial problems with first reponders contacting the disease from an infected patient in Dallas, Kurilla said the kinks have been worked out of the system. 

“We can move forward more easily,” Kurilla said. “I think there was a little naiveté before, thinking that any hospital that could treat influenza could handle Ebola. We know now it’s not as straightforward as that.”

The medical community has sense identified multiple hospitals in the country with the capability to handle highly infectious diseases such as Ebola or Marburg. 

Also, a number of potential treatment options are either in the Phase 1 clinical testing stage or nearing it, including ZMap and BCX4430.

“Honestly, we never thought that we would be able to have clinical trials on these countermeasures,” Kurilla said. “We never thought we would have clinical cases of Ebola. There wasn’t a lot of data about what the disease looks like.”

Kurilla told BioPrepWatch that raising awareness in the medical community and ensuring that hospital personnel have adequate training are key to controlling Ebola and other outbreaks of similar severity. The ability to recognize symptoms and to tie those things to a diagnosis is key. Another important element is the adequacy of public health institutions and infrastructure to treat these conditions.

“There is now a recognition that we can’t start at square one," Kurilla said. "We need to be prepared before an outbreak occurs and have something in place. [This acceleration of research helps in that] when a new threat emerges, we may have something in place already that could fight the new agent."