The Ebola virus, which has recently made headlines around the world, poses an infinitesimal danger to Israel, according to virologist Dr. Leslie Lobel, a top pathogens expert at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev.
“There is general hysteria in the West about Ebola fever, but it is overblown,” the American- born Lobel said in an interview on Monday with The Jerusalem Post.
“The risks to Israel are very minimal. The only way for it to spread is through an infected traveler on plane. But if that ever happened, Israel has a security and medical system that is second to none. Infected individuals, before they appear sick, could possibly board a plane and come here. However, sick individuals would be effectively quarantined in Israel and the infection would be rapidly controlled,” Lobel said.
“They [people from infected areas] are pre-screened. The symptoms of Ebola are clear and would be identified in time to prevent infection.
The symptoms begin with flu-like symptoms such as headache, muscle pain and fever, but they quickly develop into diarrhea, vomiting and bleeding of the mucous membranes,” he said.
There are no vaccines to protect against Ebola or any specific treatments, but intravenous fluids can help.
The disease may be acquired upon contact with blood or bodily fluids of an infected animal, such as bats or monkeys, and it is not naturally transmitted through the air.
Consumption of bush-meat is also believed to spread it. So far, the latest African outbreak has affected more than 1,200 people, with more than half dying of it.
Two American aid workers infected with the deadly virus while fighting the outbreak in Liberia have arrived in Georgia and been put into isolation for treatment, but the US public are not regarded at risk.
Sixty percent of those infected in Africa die within eight days to three weeks after contracting the virus.
For the last 12 years, Lobel has devoted himself to the study of viral diseases at BGU’s Health Sciences Faculty. Born in Queens, New York, he has an MD degree and doctorate in virology from Columbia University and studied the human immune response to cancer and developed human monoclonal antibodies.
He and his BGU lab team “isolate and produce in the lab molecules that are naturally produced by the immune system in survivors, and they attach to the Ebola virus to inhibit infection. These are the antibodies that the body produces naturally as part of the immune system’s response to the pathogens.”
Although Israel does have bats, they are completely different types than those in Uganda, Liberia, Guinea and other African countries where Ebola has become a threat to the local population. Lobel travels to Uganda five times a year and is the first to follow up Ebola fever survivors.
“I have been doing this for 10 years, and an incredible team from the US military has joined along with wonderful collaborators in Uganda,” he said.
“Everything is very well organized there,” continued Lobel.
“I protect myself with anti-malaria pills and antibiotics and meet with survivors who were infected at least three months before but survived and are healthy. I study their immune systems to find out why they survived and others didn’t. The answer could be genetic or epigenetic [environmental effects on the genes].”
“I don’t cover myself when I talk to them so I can gain their trust. I go in as a proud Israeli and am very respectful of them.
I don’t come in as a stranger to take blood samples and leave,” he added.
His travel expenses and research are funded by the US National Institutes of Health, the US military and other foreign sources who are keen on finding a cure for Ebola.
A full feature on the BGU researcher of the Ebola virus will appear on the Health Page on Sunday, August 10.