by Rene Gupta
A UNC doctor is part of the global effort to stop the spread of the Ebola virus in Africa. Dr. William Fischer — the program director for research at the School of Medicine — spent part of his summer in Guinea. He provided medical care in severe conditions. Thursday, Fischer described his experience to UNC Board of Trustees .
Dr. William Fischer spoke to the Board of Trustees standing under an opulent chandelier in the luxury of the Carolina Inn. It was quite a contrast of what he saw in Guinea this summer — No running water, no electricity, and a merciless disease that he could do little to stop as he watched it wipe out entire families. He said he arrived in Guinea about five months after the initial Ebola outbreak.
“So, the outbreak can actually be traced back to December of 2013 to a small village where a two year old little boy developed a fever, some bloody diarrhea, and vomiting,” Fischer said.
“He subsequently died four days after the presentation of his illness. And unfortunately, then his sister became sick with similar symptoms and died again four days after the onset of her illness due to Ebola. Their mother actually developed uncontrollable vaginal bleeding as she was eight months pregnant at the time.”
According to his blog posts the Ebola virus disease has a fatality rate of up to 90%. He explained the development of the disease.
“So, what began truly as a small outbreak in an isolated village in the forest region of Guinea has erupted into the world’s most devastating epidemic of Ebola,” Fischer said. “This is no longer an outbreak.”
Fischer shared his experience while in the forest region of Guéckédou.
“Guéckédou was especially important because they have the highest rates of this entire epidemic,” Fischer said. “It’s in the most austere environment that I’ve ever visited let alone work in. I had no labs to support what I was doing so I was looking in a bucket of diarrhea trying to decide how much potassium they had lost and then trying to replace it. I was guessing.”
Chancellor Carol Folt expressed her gratitude for the efforts of Fischer and others in the UNC community.
“I want to thank you too because I think you did a wonderful job today also putting a human face on it,” Folt said. “I think that is often missing and I think that is really powerful to know your direct experience about why this is spreading the way it is.”
Fischer said he wants to return to Guinea by the end of the year to continue treating patients and stopping the spread of this epidemic.