Research and Innovations
Healthcare workers in West Africa reported that some personnel were able to wear their Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for only 40 minutes at a time because of high temperatures and humid conditions.
In response, President Obama announced a “Grand Challenge” led by USAID to design better Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for healthcare workers who treated Ebola patients in September 2014. CDC’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) partnered with other U.S. agencies on the “Fighting Ebola: A Grand Challenge for Development” to find ways to reduce heat stress while improving protection and comfort for healthcare workers. In its labs in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, NIOSH scientists used a special manikin that simulated human sweating to test their ideas.
Genetic Sequencing of the Ebola Virus
As the largest Ebola outbreak in history raged through West Africa, there was a critical need to understand whether the virus was changing as it spread through different populations in order to help responders know what treatments to use and also help research laboratories develop new tools to speed diagnosis in the field.
CDC scientists had access to genetic sequences from Guinea and Sierra Leone that had been published by other scientists. But the return to the United States of two American patients with Ebola infection underscored that no genetic sequences existed of the Liberian virus. The first patient was admitted to an Atlanta area hospital on August 3; CDC received samples on August 6. Scientists immediately applied diagnostic tests and also began the process of sequencing the genetic material in the samples.
Less than 72 hours after the first samples arrived, scientists had not only initial test results confirming that the patients were, indeed, infected with Ebola, but also the first detailed genetic sequencing of the Liberian virus. The genetic sequence information confirmed that the Liberian viral samples were 99% identical to the virus circulating in Guinea and Sierra Leone. As important, CDC could see that the virus in the 2014 epidemic is 97% similar to the virus that first emerged in 1976.
Innovative Diagnostic Tests
CDC scientists worked with several private companies to field test a rapid Ebola diagnostic test that looks for antigens in blood. Antigens are proteins produced by the Ebola virus that stimulate an immune response in the body. The test uses a fingerstick or whole blood samples, and can provide confirmation of Ebola virus. Rapid diagnostic tests have been deployed in some of the most-affected areas of West Africa.