WESTWOOD, Calif. — Worldwide viruses like SARS, MERS, and Ebola have taught the medical industry a lot about infectious diseases. At UCLA in Westwood, one of the top virus experts is taking lessons learned from her battle with Ebola in Africa and applying them to preparing for the coronavirus.
Putting yourself in the middle of an infectious disease epidemic is not something most people would willingly choose to do. But for epidemiologist, Anne Rimoin, that is exactly what she did for 18 years in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
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When she's back at her office at the UCLA School of Public Health, life is not quite as dangerous.
But her work running a research program in Africa continues. She studies infectious diseases like Ebola to help government and health officials understand where people are contracting the virus and how to contain it.
“Infectious disease research is a fascinating topic to be involved in," said Rimoin. "Infectious diseases are everywhere around the world. They are things that can be difficult to detect, sometimes they require a little bit of sleuthing.”
That sleuthing has earned her the nickname the 'Virus Hunter.'
She laughs at that title, but says as long as her research is making an impact, that's all that matters. Rimoin understands that whenever you have a new infectious virus or disease outbreak, it's concerning. But she says there is still a lot of information that health officials need to collect about this new coronavirus in order to figure out just how serious it is or what the implications could be.
“Things that we still have to understand are, how well does it transmit from human to human? What's the incubation period? All of these things are still yet to be understood,” Rimoin said.
Major Chinese cities, including Beijing and quarantine-blocked Wuhan, banned all large gatherings over the coming Lunar New Year festival, the most important holiday on the Chinese calendar, in an expanding effort to contain a rapidly spreading coronavirus outbreak.
The announcement Thursday came as authorities expanded travel restrictions imposed on Wuhan to surrounding municipalities, shutting down travel networks and attempting to quarantine about 25 million people — more than the population of Florida.
Some UCLA students have been inundated with calls from friends and family around the country wondering just how worried they should be about the coronavirus.
“There's plenty of public health precautions you can take before it gets to your area. And it'll help keep you from getting sick from the flu along with anything new that might be out there," said student Megan Halbrook.
What researchers have learned from studying infectious diseases like SARS, which is in the same family as the new coronavirus, is that these types of viruses can be easy to prevent by using basic infection control measures.
“You can stop the spread of something by simple measures such as washing your hands covering your mouth when you cough, covering your nose when you sneeze using basic hygiene practices," said Rimoin. "You know it's a great thing to be able to stop a complex problem with simple solutions.”
Epidemiology teams around the world are now hunting for answers about the new coronavirus in an ongoing effort to keep people safe.
- Cases of the virus have been detected around China, including Hong Kong and Macao, and other countries, including Japan, South Korea, the United States and Thailand. Singapore and Vietnam are the latest to join the list.
- At least 18 people have died and more than 600 have been sickened by a mysterious illness, health officials said.
- U.S.-bound travelers from Wuhan will be routed to five airports for screening: Chicago’s O’Hare, New York’s John F. Kennedy, Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson, and Los Angeles’s and San Francisco’s international airports.
- Residents of Wuhan report empty shelves in stores and express frustration that the government isn’t telling them the full story.
- The World Health Organization declined to declare a global health emergency Thursday, saying it’s too early.
For more information about coronavirus: cdc.gov/coronavirus/about/