Interview with researcher who discovered Ebola

Several gripping stories are told in this recent interview with Professor Peter Piot, now Director of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine to Der Spiegel‘s Rafaela von Bredow and  (reprinted by The Guardian). In 1976, he “was a researcher at a lab in Antwerp when a pilot brought him a blood sample from a Belgian nun who had fallen mysteriously ill in Zaire [present day Congo].”

About conditions in the lab where the discovery was made:

We just wore our white lab coats and protective gloves. When we opened the thermos, the ice inside had largely melted and one of the vials had broken. Blood and glass shards were floating in the ice water. We fished the other, intact test tube out of the slop and began examining the blood for pathogens using the methods that were standard at the time.

In response to a question on potential mutations (countering fears that mutation might lead to airborne transmission):

From the perspective of a virus, it isn’t desirable for its host, within which the pathogen hopes to multiply, to die so quickly. It would be much better for the virus to allow us to stay alive longer…a mutation that would allow Ebola patients to live a couple of weeks longer is certainly possible and would be advantageous for the virus….that would allow Ebola patients to infect many, many more people than is currently the case.

What to do?

We urgently need to come up with new strategies….caregivers need to teach family members who are providing care to patients how to protect themselves from infection to the extent possible. This on-site educational work is currently the greatest challenge.

Piot’s 2012 book is No time to lose: A life in pursuit of deadly viruses. The interview originally appeared in German in issue 39/2014 (September 22, 2014) of DER SPIEGEL.

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