Since March of this year, the news has lit up with reports of Ebola virus disease (EVD) daily. With an approximate 50% fatality rate, Ebola has killed more than 4,500 people in West Africa and possibly reached about 100 Americans in the United States. As of yet, there is no cure.

Although maintaining a sterile environment and wearing protective gear shield nurses, laboratory workers, and patients alike, there is another preventive measure that could be just as effective for the rest of us: achieving and maintaining healthy iron levels.

According to Dr. Eugene Weinberg, author of Exposing the Hidden Dangers of Iron, pathogens thrive in iron-rich environments. In fact, pathogenic microorganisms can’t even survive or multiply unless an adequate amount of iron is present in the body. Therefore, those with transferrin iron saturation percentages (TS%) above the normal range of 25-35% are at increased likelihood for disease. Transferrin, says Weinberg, is the protein that transports iron throughout the body – “saturation” indicates how much iron transferrin is carrying.

Additionally, iron levels within serum ferritin – the protein that stores iron in the body – should not increase beyond 50-150 ng/mL. High serum ferritin levels normally correlate with disease severity and hemorrhages, which are characteristic of Ebola. While Ebola is actually a virus and not a bacterium, a host still needs iron to make viral particles. This information is especially important to consider given that viruses flourish in conditions provided by iron overload, Weinberg said.

Even though iron overload increases chances of disease, iron is still needed in the body for the transport of oxygen and overall health. Iron withholding defense proteins such as ferritin, transferrin, and lactoferrin are essential to recovery from disease.

“As of yet there is no drug therapy for Ebola. However, should one be developed, individuals will respond more favorably to therapy when their iron status is within normal ranges,” said Gerry Koenig of the Iron Disorders Institute Board of Directors. “We can help prevent serious Ebola infection by naturally maintaining healthy iron levels and nourishing our bodies with adequate healthy nutrients. For those with iron overload, consider regular phlebotomies or blood donations to therapeutically remove excess iron.”

If your iron levels are too low, Weinberg and Koenig recommend eating foods like beef, venison, and lamb – all of which are also good sources of iron. To help prevent disease in general, increase intake of antioxidant-rich foods such as nuts, fruits, and vegetables. If your iron levels are too high, coffee and tea are especially effective in blocking iron absorption. Both beverages provide protective polyphenol nutrients, as well. In addition to these preventive measures, protect yourself against germs and check for updates by the CDC or WHO.