Researchers at Tulane University are getting $12 million dollars to develop drugs to fight a deadly virus in West Africa, the 'Lassa virus. Researchers will be headed from New Orleans to Sierra Leone and Nigeria to help.
About 300,000 people contract the virus each year in West Africa. Tulane researchers have been studying it for more than 14 years. Immunology and biology professor Robert Garry says that while Lassa doesn’t spread as quickly and easily as Ebola, it’s spreading year-round over wide areas. It’s spread by rats, and – like Ebola – through contact with human body fluids of an infected person. It’s not clear when an infected person becomes contagious, or how long that stage lasts. “We think that maybe about 20 percent of the people that get infected actually end up getting sick enough to come to a hospital. Most people that get infected with Ebola probably do develop a serious illness. With Lassa virus not everybody gets sick. But if you do start to get sick, that’s a really bad sign," he said.
Garry says the $12 million dollars will pay for developing drug treatments and, eventually, a vaccine. He says the research on treatments is further along, with tests to begin on people in West Africa in about five years.