Can the Healthcare Industry Beat Ebola?

By Jill | Medical Devices

In August 2014, American missionary workers Dr. Kent Brantly and Nancy Writebol returned to the United States after contracting Ebola in Liberia. Since that time, the healthcare industry has been at the forefront of Ebola management efforts. Brantly and Writebol were both treated with a previously unknown experimental drug ZMapp, developed by a small San Diego biotech firm, Mapp Biopharmaceutical. Although ZMapp was never tested on humans, Brantly’s condition improved within 60 minutes of receiving the drug. Writebol needed two doses but eventually recuperated. Ebola kills 90 percent of patients and there is no known cure, so their recovery was remarkable. Researchers agree that both American’s lives were saved by ZMapp.

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ZMapp was developed with the help of the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, Calif. where scientist Erica Ollmann Saphire is leading an international consortium, which includes Mapp, to develop a treatment for Ebola, or even a vaccine. The partners were backed by a $28 million grant from the National Institutes of Health awarded in March.

Beyond miracle cures, the healthcare and medtech industries are there at every stage of Ebola containment and treatment. High-tech protective “hazmat suits,” from booties, gloves, and visors to breathing packs have been prominently displayed in news reports.

Ebola patients can be treated in biocontainment isolation wards like the one at the National Institute of Health in Bethseda. The units are designed to prevent contaminants from escaping. The rooms are pressurized so that when a door is opened or closed, air flows in and not out. Pressure is monitored electronically and the status is displayed on panels. The shower is designed so people can immediately decontaminate themselves if they are exposed to a patient’s bodily fluids. Even the toilet is high-tech. Waste from the patient’s bathroom is disinfected before it enters the sewer system.

There is little doubt that Ebola is a frightening disease. But from the laboratory to the hospital room, state-of-the-art healthcare technology is being employed to contain—and in many cases cure—Ebola.