KENEMA, Sierra Leone – March 27, 2014 – A Viral Hemorrhagic Fever Consortium (VHFC) team is assembling in Sierra Leone to respond to the ongoing Ebola outbreak in neighboring Guinea. The Ministry of Health in Guinea has most recently reported a total of 103 suspected cases and 66 deaths mostly in the areas of southeastern Guinea. This represent the first known documented outbreak of Ebola virus in Guinea and this region of Africa.
VHFC researchers, working with partners from Kenema Government Hospital (KGH) in Sierra Leone and the Sierra Leone Ministry of Health and Sanitation (MOHS), are particularly concerned about reports of deadly hemorrhagic fever cases near the borders of Sierra Leone, Guinea and northern Liberia. In response to the regional outbreak and in preparation for its potential spread, VHFC is assembling a team of experts from Harvard University, the Broad Institute, and Tulane University to join existing VHFC partners in Kenema to improve current diagnostic and surveillance capabilities. VHFC personnel has also been working with the KGH Lassa Laboratory and MOHS since the beginning of the outbreak, providing technical and logistical support for ongoing investigations of suspected cases in Sierra Leone.
Located in an area with the highest incidence of Lassa fever in the world, Kenema Government Hospital has long been equipped to provide testing and care for hemorrhagic fever patients from surrounding regions at its Lassa ward. Given current reports and the clinical similarities of Ebola to Lassa fever, there is an immediacy to rapidly establish up-to-date diagnostic testing for Ebola virus at KGH to aid in surveillance efforts and clinical care in Sierra Leone and neighboring countries.
“In patients demonstrating fevers, we need the ability to not only screen for Lassa, but also Ebola,” said Robert Garry, Ph.D., Professor of Microbiology and Immunology at the Tulane University School of Medicine and Principal Investigator of the Consortium. “The VHFC is expanding on our existing diagnostic testing foundation to advance Ebola testing in the same way we have been successful with the development of the rapid test for Lassa virus.”
VHFC, established in 2010 through a $15 million National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease contract, is committed to the treatment and prevention of Lassa fever, a disease that affects thousands of people each year across West Africa. In partnership with the newly founded African Center of Excellence for Genomics of Infectious Disease (ACEGID) at Redeemer’s University in Nigeria, VHFC also strives to use field deployable and state-of-the-art genomics and immunoassay technologies to identify pathogens causing febrile illness in West Africa.
“Our primary mission is to quickly and safely establish testing in response to the critical outbreak of life-threatening illness, and also to learn how to improve our responses any time a serious or unknown outbreak emerges,” said Kristian G. Andersen, Ph.D., research scientist from Harvard University and the Broad Institute, who will be traveling to the region this week. Given that Zaire ebolavirus appear to be responsible for the outbreak in Guinea, he further added “the discovery of Ebola in West Africa dramatically changes public health approaches to viral hemorrhagic fevers, and complicates routine diagnosis for Lassa fever as routine testing for Ebola may now be needed in Lassa endemic regions.
Throughout the outbreak, VHFC plans to continue to work closely with partners at the Sierra Leone Ministry of Health and Corgenix Medical Corporation to assist in preparations and surveillance should Ebola cases spread into Sierra Leone.