By Elizabeth Cook

SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX 5) — It will take a monumental effort to stop the Ebola outbreak in its tracks, but scientists in the Bay Area are working on a new way to detect the virus before it can spread.

Imagine, at any port of entry into the U.S., being able to quickly identify travelers infected with Ebola before they show any symptoms.

“This is actually an area that we’re currently working on in my laboratory,” said Dr. Charles Chiu, an expert in infectious diseases at UCSF. His team is currently analyzing samples from Ebola patients.

“The goal is eventually to use this information, if we can, to establish and make available a rapid diagnostic test for diagnoses of the Ebola virus,” Chiu told KPIX 5.

Chiu said infected patients actually die from a heavy loss of fluid and blood.

“What happens is the virus will replicate in the blood. The virus does invade the endothelial cells that line the blood vessels, and as a result causes a huge amount of fluid leakage as well as bleeding,” Chiu said.

The loss of fluid is stunning, even to the experts: Patients with advanced disease can lose anywhere from twenty to forty cups, in a single day.

And while at the beginning of an infection, there’s not a lot of virus in the body, that changes as the disease progresses. Right before patients die, less than a quarter of a teaspoon of their blood can contain more than ten billion copies of the virus.

“What this tells me is that in the later stages of the disease, the virus is incredibly infectious,” Chiu said.

Suggesting that, as we saw with the two nurses in Texas, it doesn’t take much contact with a very sick patient to become infected.

There are three vaccines in the works; all are getting fast-tracked. Instead of taking ten years, if one of these vaccines works, it could be available in about a year.

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Elizabeth Cook

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