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How A South Florida Doctor Is Helping Ebola Victims

Patrick Farrell
Miami Herald

The World Health Organization has labeled the outbreak of the Ebola virus in Africa a global health emergency, and it's tapping the leading experts to head there to help.

One of them is Dr. Aileen Marty, professor of infectious diseases at Florida International University's Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine, and it's not the first time she's been called into similar service.

She's originally from Cuba and a product of both Our Lady of Lourdes Academy in Miami and the University of Miami. Below, read a conversation with her about her work with this crisis.

Dr. Marty, however do you prepare for something like this?

I was in the military for 25 years and rapid deployments are not uncommon for me, and the same is true for the deployments I've had in the past for WHO. So I actually keep a suitcase half-packed. Knowing that most of my deployments have been to tropical areas, in my packed luggage I include those incredibly necessary items for those kinds of places, such as mosquito repellent.

What's attracted you to the world of infectious diseases?

There's nothing more fascinating in my mind, if you're, first of all, interested in helping people and second of all, interested in life on planet Earth in general. Because infectious diseases really encompass that total interaction between all the organisms that live on the planet. It isn't just about which ones do us harm, it's also which ones do us good and how we can live with those that can be good and can be bad, depending on circumstances.

What do you think the reasons are [for this outbreak]? Because one would hope that transmission of diseases, and understanding where diseases come from and how people catch them, would improve, not decline.

That's true. ... First of all, it's normally a rare disease. Number two, it's a disease in virtually every other outbreak that has been localized to rural areas -- and in one country -- so the containment in that regard was already easier.

[With] this one, cases actually began that we know of in December of 2013. Wasn't recognized as an Ebola hemorrhagic fever outbreak until February [2014] and WHO didn’t even have a chance to step in until late March.

Now you have to deal with three different governments, three different ministries of health, three different concepts of how to manage things and three different socio-political economic situations. And now we know there are cases in Nigeria as well.