Ebola is rapidly spreading in West Africa, killing thousands of people; and the first case in the U.S. was recently reported. A Texas man sought treatment six days after arriving back in the states from Liberia. Two days later, he was admitted into an isolation room at the Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas.
Experts believe up to 18 people, including five school-aged children, may have come in contact with the Ebola patient, and are now being monitored.
But unlike Africa, the U.S. medical system is prepared for these types of cases, says Eliezer Huberman, a researcher and CEO of Novadrug LLC, a three-person company researching drugs to prevent viruses like Ebola.
Huberman is a former high-ranking official of Argonne National Laboratory. He was trained as a geneticist in Israel before coming to the U.S. in 1976. Novadrug’s medicines are still in early stages of development. Huberman and his team are developing a drug that would prevent host cells from turning into virus factories.
Read an interview with Huberman to learn more about the Ebola virus and his work.
Q: How did the Ebola outbreak get so out of hand?
The reason it got out of hand in Africa was because of their very poor medical facilities. Some places in that country don’t even have any medical facilities at all. There are also a lot of old customs that are practiced by people who live there. After someone passes away, the family washes the body of the deceased, and some even touch their own faces with that water. This has been happening for thousands of thousands of years, and it’s not easy to change it; especially if they don’t have the basic knowledge of how it spreads.
Q: How does it spread? The recent report of the Texas man in the U.S. stated he came in contact with about 18 people.
It can only spread through contact with bodily fluids. There is no airborne infection.
Q: Should people fear an Ebola outbreak will happen in this country?
No, because the country’s medical system is prepared for these types of cases. First, there needs to be isolation and systematic treatment, like liquids. Those countries in Africa, some have medical facilities and some don’t. The ones that do, we’ve seen their numbers drop from 70 percent to 30 percent. With simple, good medical treatment, you can reduce drastically those being infected.
In the states, they are getting too hyper over this sporadic case. The U.S. and Europe can easily handle sporadic cases.
Q: When does one first start feeling symptoms of the virus?
A person can start feeling symptoms as soon as two days after getting the infection; anywhere between from two days, up to 21 days. Initially, it’s typical cold symptoms and doctors in the past had to diagnose the symptoms as being related to malaria or high fever.
Q: Explain the type of drugs that your company is researching and working on creating.
We have drugs that work on certain classes of viruses, and fortunately, they work on the Ebola virus. I was initially interested in finding drugs that would have a broader spectrum and impact the cell the virus is replicating. Our drugs affect the cells in such a way that it blocks the lifecycle of these types of viruses. Our drugs work on certain families of virus, but not all and Ebola just so happens to be one of the viruses being affected by the drugs. But our drugs are still in early developments.
Q: Would this drug be a shot, or something that people would take orally?
It would be pill form, and people would take it to both treat and prevent the Ebola virus.
Q: What’s next in your research?
The next step will be to confirm that these drugs are effective in a mouse model and a lot of our future work will be in cooperation with the U.S. Army Medical Research facilities.