It wasn’t Dr. Aileen Marty’s first trip to West Africa and it likely won’t be her last.
The Florida International University professor of infectious disease is on the World Health Organization’s go-to list to head anywhere, anytime whenever an illness becomes an epidemic threat.
The disease this time? The Ebola virus.
The place? Nigeria.
Notified in August that her expertise would once again be required, for 31 days, Dr. Marty trained physicians and nurses on the best ways to identify and slow the spread of Ebola. But her work transcended the Nigerian medical community. She worked with points-of-entry officials -- airlines, airports, ship captains and border patrol officials to help them identify the signs of the disease.
And that’s not always easy in hot-weather countries where diseases like malaria can mimic Ebola in the early stages.
Below is an edited transcript of a conversation with Dr. Aileen Marty.
Dr. Marty, as familiar as you are with the situation, was there anything that surprised you while you were there?
The response by the Nigerian government. They seemed to understand why we were there and what had to be done to get this outbreak under control. Nigeria is definitely setting the example for all the West African nations trying to cope with the virus.
This is rather delicate, but for our listeners who’ve heard the extensive coverage by NPR on the outbreak and the spread, burial practices and body fluids are often mentioned. What are we talking about here?
There are ancient customs among ancient religions where the very sick and dying and those who have died are frequently touched on their hands. When a virus gets to the final stages, it gets very close to the skin’s surface. Ebola is spread by the body’s fluids and in hot countries, people sweat – especially if they’re sick.
How do you return to normal life after an experience like this? There has to be a psychological impact, even with your military and medical training.
It’s very sad. People are dying. Good people in the health care field are also dying. It’s hard for people here to grasp the situation we’re working with – bathrooms with no running water.
How do you share with your FIU students what this is like?
I spoke to them as a group when I came back and now many are asking me to come speak after hours to their different organizations.
Will you go back?
My WHO badge doesn’t expire until December.