Tulane doctor left Sierra Leone clinic hours before colleague showed fatal Ebola symptoms

METAIRIE, LA (WVUE) - At least one local researcher from New Orleans is on the front lines of the Ebola outbreak in North West Africa.

Less than two weeks ago, Dr. Daniel Bausch, an associate professor at Tulane's School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine, was working in Sierra Leone alongside Dr. Sheik Umar Khan, who died of the disease on Tuesday.

"Dr. Kahn was indeed a wonderful man. A very dedicated, jubilant happy person," said Bausch.

Bausch is also the director of the Emerging Infections Department at the U.S. Naval Medical Research facility in Lima, Peru, which is where FOX 8 reached him by Skype.

"Tracing it back, I think the day that I left Sierra Leone must have been the day that his symptoms started. He didn't complain of any symptoms when I was there, and I think he would have told me actually. So I think that his symptoms probably started the afternoon after I left," said Bausch.

Bausch is not suspected of having the disease, and he said American's shouldn't worry about getting infected.

Tulane's Dr. Susan McLellan, who also spent time working at the same clinic in Sierra Leone, explained why.

"If you have close contact with bodily fluid such as blood, vomit, feces from an infected person, and probably only if it contacts irritated abraded or damaged skin or a mucus membrane, it's very easily transmitted in those situations. Now that's not normally what happens in an airport," said McLellan.

It does happen, however, among family and healthcare workers in an outbreak area, but McLellen said it takes a long time for people to agree and submit to isolation and the care of foreign workers draped in protective gear.

"If you were a parent of a small child who got a little fever and threw up, would you want to take them and hand them over to the guys in the gowns? And figure 50-50 you're not going to see your child again if it is Ebola," said McLellen.

The public health campaign was part of what Bausch was working on.

"The system that we currently have is dependent of people cooperating, on people saying I understand this system I understand what Ebola is, and that's not often the case. We have some very severe cultural barriers and understandings. So, if we had some tools we could really change things," said Bausch.

The tools, such as vaccines and antivirals, don't exist yet for Ebola. However, Bausch is focused on its research, along with other healthcare workers across the globe, some who have died trying to save others.

"There are a lot of people who made this sacrifice who we need to remember," Bausch.

Copyright 2014 WVUE. All rights reserved.