Five years after Ebola, Emory reaffirms commitment to infectious disease prevention, care

Aug. 2, 2019

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Susan Chana
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susan.chana@emory.edu

In a videotaped message, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the World Health Organization, called on researchers at Emory and beyond to help “fix the roof before it rains” by developing better tools and systems to prevent and treat infectious diseases.

Emory University is marking the fifth anniversary of its treatment of the first patients with Ebola virus disease in the U.S. by reaffirming its commitment to preparedness and prevention and advancing medical care for global infectious diseases. 

“Five years ago, the world watched as the first of four patients with Ebola virus disease arrived at Emory University Hospital,” says Jonathan S. Lewin, MD, Emory executive vice president for health affairs and president, CEO and chairman of the board of Emory Healthcare.

“At a time when little was known about caring for these patients, our Serious Communicable Diseases Unit (SCDU) successfully treated individuals with Ebola virus disease, creating protocols that have evolved into internationally recognized standards for caring for patients with deadly infections,” Lewin says. 

Emory has played a lead role in expanding the learning curve from experiences with Ebola virus disease. Emory physicians, nurses and other health care providers have continued to refine and share protocols and best practices in infectious disease prevention, patient care and safety across Emory’s health care system and working with health care institutions and partners throughout the U.S. and globally. 

“We need to fix the roof before it rains,” says Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the World Health Organization. “The U.S. has long been a powerhouse of scientific research, and more than ever, we need your support not only to develop better tools but to develop better systems to keep the world safe. Your support can help us to build a better world.”

“We are grateful for the opportunity to successfully treat these four patients in 2014, made possible through our long-time partnership with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,” says Bruce Ribner, MD, Emory professor of medicine and medical director of the Serious Communicable Diseases Unit. “Emory’s experience with treating four patients with Ebola virus disease has allowed us to make critical advancements in infectious disease preparedness and patient care.”

Lessons learned

  • Emory evaluated how health care workers took off personal protective equipment (PPE), then carefully refined the process to limit exposure. These lessons, and other safety protocols, are now used for broader hospital applications, and 360-degree virtual reality videos have been developed for training.
  • Emory’s SCDU team, which successfully treated patients with procedures not previously used to care for patients with Ebola virus disease, has continued to advance and improve safety protocols and methods of care for patients with serious infections, and has shared their findings and experiences with health care providers across the country.
  • Emory was awarded a $24 million federal contract, along with Nebraska Medical Center and Bellevue Hospitals, to establish the National Ebola Training and Education Center (NETEC), which has provided training to 48 designated health care institutions around the U.S. 
  • Infectious disease experts at the Hope Clinic of the Emory Vaccine Center have played key roles in testing vaccines for Ebola virus disease, both for pre-exposure and post-exposure prophylaxis. 
  • Immunologists at the Emory Vaccine Center have led studies on Ebola antibodies, in an effort to design anti-viral therapies and better vaccines.
  • Ophthalmologists from the Emory Eye Center have made numerous discoveries about ongoing vision problems experienced by survivors of Ebola virus disease and have worked with health care providers in Sierra Leone, Guinea, Liberia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo to treat patients who have recovered from Ebola virus disease.
  • As the global health emergency continues in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the National Institutes of Health recently awarded the Emory Eye Center a $3.2 million grant to continue studying vision-related issues in Ebola virus disease survivors.
  • Emory doctors recently traveled to the DRC to screen more than 250 Ebola survivors for uveitis, an ocular inflammatory disease that can lead to vision impairment or blindness if left untreated. 

Commitment to the future

“With Ebola still very much a global threat, our infectious disease physicians, nurses and researchers are using the learnings from 2014 in everyday patient care and working to find more therapies for Ebola and other challenging infectious diseases,” says Colleen Kraft, MD, associate professor of pathology and laboratory medicine and associate medical director of Emory’s Serious Communicable Diseases Unit. “We believe this can be a game-changer in the future of health care.”

Emory’s Serious Communicable Diseases Program continues to establish partnerships with other key institutions to develop and deliver innovative health care research strategies and best practices for infection control for health care providers and patients with critical infectious diseases.