Health & Medicine

Two from UC Davis working on front line of Ebola fight in Sierra Leone

Two graduates of the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine are battling the Ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone, which recently initiated a three-day nationwide shutdown to slow the deadly disease.

During the shutdown that ended Monday, more than 1 million households in the West African country were checked for Ebola patients and given information on how to prevent the spread of the deadly disease, according to The Associated Press.

Kim Dodd and mentor Brian Bird, veterinary scientists working for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, are part of the effort to halt the largest outbreak of Ebola since the virus was identified in 1976 near the Ebola River in what is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Veterinary scientists play a critical role in conducting lab tests to identify cases so that rapid tracing of patient contacts can begin, helping to reduce the transmission of Ebola, according to a veterinary school story. It is important to quickly identify positive Ebola patients for treatment in specific centers and send those who actually have health concerns such as malaria for treatment elsewhere. Dodd joined Bird in Sierra Leone earlier this month. According to the article, Bird is the leader of the CDC Ebola Field Laboratory at an Ebola treatment unit in Kenema, Sierra Leone.

The disease is thought to have killed more than 600 people in Sierra Leone, a nation of 6 million, according to The AP.

“The impact of the outbreak is devastating with so many families reeling from loss of loved ones, including many young children,” Dodd noted in an e-mail to school of veterinary medicine.

But there are moments of triumph during the devastation that has killed several leading doctors and many nurses in Sierra Leone.

“Today was a good day – a total of 20 patients were released to their families after fully recovering and finally testing negative,” Dodd said in her e-mail.

The veterinary school article noted that Dodd spoke to the father of a 6-year-old girl who had been in the treatment center for 21 days.

“When she walked out, small yet brave in a new shirt two sizes too big for her, he and I both wept,” Dodd said.

The World Health Organization said health workers risk their lives each day treating Ebola patients in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria and Sierra Leone. According to WHO, Ebola’s toll from March 23 to Monday, was 5,843 cases and 2,803 deaths. A total of 337 health care workers have been infected, and more than 181 of them have died.

According to the CDC, health care providers and the family and friends of Ebola patients are at the highest risk of contracting Ebola because they may come into contact with the blood or body fluids of sick patients.

People also can become sick with Ebola after contact with infected wildlife, such as touching a dead chimpanzee. Also, Ebola may spread from handling wild animals hunted for food.