Ever heard of leishmaniasis? What about yellow fever? Or the Zika virus? If you haven’t heard about these global illnesses yet, there’s a good chance you will.
It’s not a question of if – but when – the United States will face a significant outbreak of a contagious disease. That’s why Dr. Jeffery Deal is making sure the College of Charleston’s public health students are up-to-date on the myriad illnesses that could pose a threat.
Deal, a visiting assistant professor of public health for the 2017-2018 academic year, is giving students in global health courses exposure to the medical, economic and political implications of infectious diseases. As a board-certified physician in tropical medicine and hygiene and the inventor of the Tru-D ultraviolet light disinfection system, Deal knows a few things about how to stop the spread of dangerous diseases and infections.
“Global health is the health issues that cross geographical boundaries,” explains Deal, whose career as a physician spans more than 35 years. “So instead of being the study of the public health of the United States, it’s medical issues that affect multiple countries, not just one.”
In 2014 Deal experienced the full impact of an outbreak on the verge of becoming a global health crisis when medical personnel at Emory Hospital in Atlanta contacted the manufacturer of Tru-D inquiring whether the device could kill the deadly Ebola virus. A physician who contracted Ebola while treating patients during an outbreak in Liberia was being transported to Emory for treatment, and doctors there wanted to keep the virus from spreading. Deal was brought in to evaluate the efficacy of Tru-D in combating the bug. As it turned out, Deal’s invention, which uses UVC light to kill bacteria and viruses, could kill Ebola with ease.
Deal then traveled with a delivery of Tru-D devices to Liberia where he worked with doctors and health officials to help reduce the spread of Ebola in medical settings there.
“It was a pretty awful time,” Deal recalls of the outbreak in Liberia, noting hospitals there were overrun with dying patients.
Deal, who was a founding member of Charleston ENT and later served as president of medical staff at Bon Secours-St. Francis Hospital in Charleston, first started thinking about creating a device to better sterilize hospital rooms about 20 years ago after the rate of hospital-acquired infections (infections patients contract in the hospital) began increasing.
“At the time more than 100,000 people per year were dying as a result of infections they got inside the hospital,” Deal says. “That’s like five or six 747s crashing every day.”
The first Tru-D units sold in 2009 after Deal partnered with Tennessee-based company Lumalier. Then, after a CDC-funded study at Duke University showed that Tru-D could reduce infection rates by 30 percent, the device began to catch on in the medical community. It is now used in hospitals across the United States and around the world.
Since retiring from the surgical specialty of otolaryngology in 2006, Deal turned his attention to tropical diseases, first working as the medical director for a hospital in Sudan funded by CofC benefactor Guy Beatty and before taking a position as director of health studies at North Charleston-based Water Mission. He began teaching courses at the College in 2015 as an adjunct professor before joining the faculty as a visiting assistant professor this fall.
“Engaging public health students in thinking about diseases that could easily have a global impact here and elsewhere is essential,” says Deal. “Even if the outbreak is somewhere else, there could still be economic ramifications that could affect us. The Ebola epidemic was a hair’s breath away from becoming a global issue. The next one is inevitable.”
Featured image: Dr. Jeffery Deal presents a Tru-D device to Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf during a visit to the African nation in 2014 amid an Ebola outbreak.