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No one could have predicted… (Ebola post)

How did it get in??

I’m sure you’ve seen the headlines this morning.  Another ebola patient turned up in Texas.  This time, it’s a health care worker who was at the hospital when Mr. Duncan came back in the ambulance.  This person was wearing protection, or so the hospital says.  Given the way that the ambulance ignored the family when they were screaming about Duncan vomiting all over the sidewalk, who knows what precautions the hospital actually took once he got there.  Ok, let’s assume that they were as rigorous as they said they were.  The fact that someone got infected anyway suggests that either the virus became a lot more infectious or that the health care worker was extraordinarily unlucky and something managed to seep through the latex anyway.

I’m going with another option.  I’m going to guess that the hospital got wise only after Duncan came in by ambulance and that the gloves, mask, full body armor and shield got implemented only after the hapless health care worker (Hapless from now on) was exposed.  The hospital may not have had time to explain the precautions everyone needed to take until after someone had touched the vomit with their gloves and then scratched their faces.

Well, it was bound to happen to someone else in Texas.  I’m still not panicked.

Last night, I caught up with Nova on PBS, which produced an episode on Ebola that ran last week.  You can view Surviving Ebola on Nova here.  This program delves more deeply into the monoclonal antibody treatment, ZMapp.  As I suspected, producing the proteins in ZMapp is a bit of a logistical challenge.  It has not been scaled up and growing the tobacco is only half the battle.  According to this segment, it takes just as long to purify the protein as to grow it.  Actually, that doesn’t sound right either.  It used to take me and my partner about 3 days to lyse the cells, spin the pellets, make the buffers, run the columns and check the fractions with electrophoresis.  I’m not sure how it differs with antibodies though.  Like I have mentioned before, antibodies tend to aggregate, or so I’m told, and purifying any protein is still a bit of an art form.  So, maybe they have additional steps to go through before it can be used in humans.

In any case, Hapless is probably not going to get ZMapp.  Let’s hope they caught this infection in time for other treatments to work.

3 Responses

  1. I think it wouldn’t hurt for someone to invent “dummy proof” protective clothing. It’s possible that getting out of the protective gear is almost as dangerous as working directly with patients.

    Or no clothes — just head protection (for the mucus membranes) Does heat kill viruses? Maybe a Heat Shower. Or some kind of Light Bath?

    Since the whole world seems to be interested right now: It might be a good time to learn how to control the spread of viruses in general.

    • Don’t be silly, katiebird.
      That’s entirely too sensible.
      This is ‘Murrica!

    • A commenter at Naked Capitalism raised a very similar question. Hospitals, etc. should have outer-surface decontamination facilities so the HazMat suit can be totally outer-surface sterilized and decontaminated before taking it off. I believe people working with/around super-hazardous chemicals already have such facilities for decontaminating suits before taking them off.

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