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University Of Wisconsin Infectious Disease Expert Weighs In On Hazard Of Researching Ebola


"The death toll in Africa from the Ebola virus is closing in on 700. The Peace Corps announced that it is temporarily evacuating several hundred volunteers from the three hardest hit countries: Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea…and two volunteers in Liberia have been hospitalized because they came in contact with someone who later died," reports Jill Ditmire.

Ditmire: We spoke with infectious disease expert Dr. Nasia Safdar of the University of Wisconsin.

Dr. Safdar: I think one of the things that is somewhat hopeful with Ebola is that there haven’t been any reports of somebody's who's been able to be contagious while they are incubating the illness. So all of the contagious has happened once they've already developed symptoms...That's been helpful because you have no idea who out there might be incubating Ebola until once they get symptoms. 

Ditmire: Dr. Safdar told me there’s so much we still don't know about how Ebola is spread.

Dr. Safdar: We know that humans and non-human primates like gorillas and chimpanzees will get sick from it. But we don't know what are the reservoirs of animals that will harbor Ebola and not get sick but will be able to transmit it to other individuals. I haven't really seen any progress on that front or even a theory on what likely suspects are. The other thing we don’t know is what body fluids are most contagious. So at this point, body fluids are equally contagious. 

Ditmire: Is there any new current research being done on that? It seems like a very difficult thing to research. 

Dr. Safdar: It is, because it does pose a hazard to somebody who's doing research on it. You don't want to be growing the virus and exposing lab workers to it. That is a challenge. But on the other hand, research methodology has progressed rather rapidly in the last decade, and so there are definitely groups of people who are working feverishly on trying to identify it. But because it comes with a huge risk to the individual studying it, those groups are not as many as one might hope. 

Dr. Nasia Safdar is medical director of infection control for the University of Wisconsin Hospital.