Local groups on front lines of Ebola battle

SAN DIEGO - As local scientists search for a cure for the Ebola virus, workers for a San Diego nonprofit are risking their lives on the front lines in West Africa as the Ebola outbreak gets out of control.

Two health care workers – including a doctor – are due in Atlanta on Saturday. They were infected with Ebola after working in Liberia to combat a massive outbreak.

Could the answer to that outbreak lie in the efforts of some San Diegans?

"This is really exciting because we didn't have anything before," said Erica Ollmann Saphire, a professor at the Scripps Research Institute.

Her team is imaging proteins and targeting weaknesses in the virus after Mapp Bio, a local company, co-developed a cocktail of antibodies that cured monkeys if administered soon after infection.

Human trials were scheduled for 2015, but international regulators could move up that timeline.

Amid the hunt for a cure, a local nonprofit is on the front lines in West Africa.

"There's a personal pride in being involved with this response," said Mark O'Donnell, the chief operating officer of Project Concern International.

Project Concern International has 75 staffers in Liberia. Those staffers are going into affected communities for community outreach, including teaching Ebola prevention, identifying potential cases and delivering supplies, such as masks, gowns and hand-washing buckets.

All of the staffers – none are from San Diego – have been given the chance to stay out of harm's way.

"There is fear, but not one of the staff members have taken that option," said O'Donnell. "They want to help in response to a national crisis."

As for the option of traveling from West Africa, it is becoming more restrictive.

Elizabeth Lou's nonprofit Nile Sisters Development Initiative provides services for African immigrants.

She believes a few West African immigrants settle in San Diego every month, but more extensive screenings in West Africa, including airport health exams, could slow down immigration.

"It will not stop, but it will delay until may be the disease is eradicated," said Lou.

The mortality rate right now is about 64 percent. About 1,300 have been infected in the past few weeks.

The local group PCI is organizing relief shipments. If it gets a lot worse, they do have a contingency plan in place to pull out their volunteers.

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