Board of Regents announce preparedness to combat infectious diseases

Alex Wilts

In a special meeting Thursday night, the UT System Board of Regents announced the System’s commitment to being prepared to utilize its resources for protecting citizens from public health threats, including Ebola.  

“The University of Texas System is fortunate to have some of the nation’s leading experts in the research and treatment of infectious diseases, and we have the largest national biocontainment laboratory in the world, located on an academic campus at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston,” said Gene Powell, vice chairman and regent, in a statement at end of the meeting. “Our research expertise, world-class health care and state-of-the-art medical facilities across Texas positions us among the most experienced resources in the nation and the world.”

At the beginning of the meeting, Jim LeDuc, the director of the Galveston National Lab at UTMB, gave an overview of the Ebola virus and the particular subtype — Ebola Zaire — that is now infecting people.

Currently, three people have been diagnosed with the Ebola virus in the U.S.

Thomas Eric Duncan, who contracted the disease in Liberia, died from Ebola last week at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas. So far, two nurses involv:ed in his care have also contracted the virus and are presently receiving treatment. 

According to LeDuc, people become infected with Ebola by either coming in contact with wild animals stricken with the disease, eating contaminated bush animal meat or through direct contact with infected bodily fluids.

LeDuc said the mortality rate for the disease is 70 to 80 percent, and the number of people infected internationally has been doubling every two to three weeks.

“It’s most like to continue at this rate at least for the near future,” LeDuc said.

Scott Lea, a professor of infectious diseases at UTMB, also talked about how the medical branch has improved training for treating those with Ebola, protocols for lab testing of the virus and prepared a plan for the management of waste and infectious materials.

Lea said protocols appear much more stringent than those undertaken at the hospital in Dallas.