NPR for North Texas
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Leading Epidemiologist Expects More Ebola Cases In North Texas

UT Southwestern Medical Center
Dr. Robert Haley spent a decade working as an epidemic investigator with the Centers for Disease Control.

A leading epidemiologist with UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas told KERA that North Texas should expect more than the one case of Ebola already diagnosed.  

Dr. Robert Haley is chief of epidemiology and professor of internal medicine at UT Southwestern.

Dr. Robert Haley, who also worked as an epidemic investigator with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, says a quarantine should, however, prevent Ebola from becoming widespread.

The infected man, Thomas Eric Duncan, recently traveled to Dallas from Liberia where he reportedly helped a pregnant woman who died from the disease.

Texas Health Commissioner Dr. David Lakey has signed an order requiring family members Duncan was staying with to remain in their northeast Dallas apartment and have no visitors.

The Texas Department of State Health Services said health officials are contacting about 100 people who may have come in contact with Duncan or people he encountered.

Interview highlights

KERA's Shelley Kofler: Do you believe the number of Ebola cases can be limited to the one man already infected?

Dr. Haley: I don’t know if we can limit it to one case because his family, the people who were in the home with him over the last several days before he came in, they are at grave risk.  So they will be watched carefully and if they develop fever they will immediately be put in the hospital in isolation probably before they become infectious. Then they’ll be given IV fluids, very aggressive management with supportive measures and we will greatly reduce their risk of dying.

Kofler: To my knowledge there is no vaccine to prevent Ebola. And there is no approved treatment they know is going to lead to recovery. For those patients who may become infected, including the man who is already infected, what can be done for them?

Haley: If you’re in West Africa there’s just no ability to treat people there.  There hasn’t been much.  Now in this country it’s different.  In our modern hospitals we have aggressive supportive therapies. That’s intravenous fluids, monitoring the blood chemistry with rapid laboratory tests where we can see where we are in terms of maintaining the body’s chemistry just right.  And if the person develops where they can’t breathe you can put them on a ventilator to tide them over until they start recovering. 

The research is clear up to now.  It will reduce the mortality rate from 70 percent (the mortality rate in West Africa) down to some much lower number, probably 30 percent of so, I would guess. 

We don’t know that for sure.  And that’s an added incentive for people who have been exposed to report themselves, go to a hospital because it’s a difference between a 70 percent chance of dying from it and a 30 percent chance of dying.  Which would you take?

Kofler:  Where will think we’ll be in another 21 days, another month or so?

Dr. Haley: There may be some additional cases in the family but they are now under quarantine or surveillance by the local health department.  If any of those become ill they’ll be carefully controlled.  So it won’t spread beyond them.

There could be an ER person or maybe an ambulance driver who would possibly come down with it.  I would be very surprised because our hospital workers and paramedics are very well trained to protect themselves.  If they develop fever they will immediately go to the hospital and not be infectious to others.  

Former KERA staffer Shelley Kofler was news director, managing editor and senior reporter. She is an award-winning reporter and television producer who previously served as the Austin bureau chief and legislative reporter for North Texas ABC affiliate WFAA-TV.