Virologist Michael Whitt, PhD, of UTHSC Co-authors New Book about Ebola and Other Deadly Viruses

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Dr. Michael Whitt

Advises Vigilance and Rapid Action to Prevent Future Outbreaks like the 2014 Ebola Epidemic in West Africa

The 2014 Ebola outbreak in West Africa focused attention on the toll certain emerging viruses can take on the human race. It also showed how ill prepared we are to quickly react to these potentially deadly pathogens that appear to kill randomly and elude cures.

And though Liberia, one of the countries at the epicenter of the epidemic, was declared Ebola free by the World Health Organization last month, virologist Michael Whitt, PhD, of the University of Tennessee Health Science Center (UTHSC), co-author of a new book on the virus and other virulent pathogens, believes constant vigilance is necessary to prevent future outbreaks.

Dr. Whitt, professor and chair of the Department of Microbiology, Immunology and Biochemistry in the College of Medicine at UTHSC, and Asit K. Pattnaik, PhD, professor in the School of Veterinary and Biomedical Sciences at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, are co-authors of the book titled, “Biology and Pathogenesis of Rhabdo- and Filoviruses,” published by World Scientific. The book reviews the most recent findings on the replication of this group of human pathogens, including the biology of the rabies virus, as well as Marburg and Ebola viruses, and the response of host cells to infection.

“This book represents an authoritative text that brings together the most recent advances on the cellular and molecular biology of Rhabdo- and Filoviruses, including mechanisms of pathogenesis,” according to the publisher. It also looks at the most recent findings on the development of vaccines and antivirals to fight these and related viruses.

Dr. Whitt said with increased surveillance and better health care resources to recognize and treat patients displaying signs of Ebola infection, the likelihood of a similar major outbreak in the future is greatly reduced, but not eliminated.

“Liberia has now declared itself free from Ebola. While there have been no new reported human cases of Ebola virus infection, the pathogen is clearly endemic in this part of Africa, likely residing in certain bat populations and spreading to other mammalian species, including humans, when they come in contact with these bats or enter sites, such as caves, where the bats roost,” he said. “Concerns were unfounded that the recent outbreak of Ebola virus resulted from a mutated strain that more easily spread among humans, but the possibility that the virus could re-emerge in the future cannot be ruled out.”

While the number of new cases in Guinea and Sierra Leone — two other countries hit hard by the virus — have been greatly reduced, “the threat is still there, and the countries that harbor the virus must remain vigilant and be ready to act as soon as new human cases appear,” Dr. Whitt said.