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Chief Virologist at DC Public Health Lab Talks Ebola Outbreak

Tuesday, September 2, 2014
Dr. Nicolas Epie expects treatment and vaccine are coming soon

(Washington, D.C.) The world health community will likely soon get a handle on the Ebola outbreak that has killed more than 1,500 people in Africa, according to the supervisory virologist at the District’s Public Health Laboratory.

Dr. Nicolas Epie said nine laboratories around the world, including the Center for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, are researching and testing this current strain of the Ebola virus, a hemorrhagic fever that is fatal in up to 90 percent of human cases.

Ebola is an RNA virus “almost like a large replication of the rabies virus,” Epie said. “If we can control rabies, we can control Ebola.”

“Ebola patients don’t respond well to treatments because their immune systems are in disarray,” Epie said.

What is promising, he said, is the effective treatment received by two US health workers infected with Ebola who were brought back to this country. Although there is not yet a licensed, specific treatment for Ebola, these two patients received immunoglobulin treatment to boost antibodies, Epie said, and have survived.

He believes “appropriate therapy and a good vaccine” are coming soon, Epie said.

Epie’s comments Thursday came hours before the news that human trials for an Ebola vaccine are beginning this week at the National Institutes of Health.

To successfully battle Ebola and other emerging infectious diseases, Epie said the world health community needs a three-pronged attack of global response teams, available funding for research and Biosafety-Level 3 laboratories in the regions of the world where these outbreaks most occur.

“A good laboratory can affect policy and positive change in infectious diseases,” said Dr. Alpha Diallo, who heads the District’s Public Health Laboratory.

The PHL includes the city’s only BSL-3 lab, and Epie says that even though this outbreak has not made it to the “New World,” protocols are in place to deal with it should that happen.

“Once it shows up anywhere in the world,” Epie said, “we must be prepared for it may show up anywhere else.”

Epie’s presentation at the Consolidated Forensics Laboratory, “Ebola Virus and Hemorrhagic Fever Viruses,” was the most recent installment of the Department of Forensic Science’s Public Lecture Series.