Ebola, in case you haven’t been listening to the news, there is an ebola virus outbreak and it has been mainly concentrated in West Africa, and spreading. So far, the World Health Organization (WHO?) has announced that there could be more than 20,000 people infected by the time the disease is stopped.
What is Ebola? Ebola is an infectious disease that results in fever and severe internal bleeding. There aren’t any medications effective in curing the virus, but hospital care could significantly increase survival rates. Ebola is highly contagious thorugh infected bodily fluids like sweat, blood and saliva, and remains infectious even after the victim has died.
Even as I’m writing this article, there has been news that five co-authors of the latest study on Ebola were killed by the virus before their research was published. This comes as a reminder of the huge risks undertaken by the people working to combat the disease’s spread.
The study, published on Thursday, discovered that the virus has mutated many times during the outbreak in West Africa, making establishing a treatment that more difficult. Mbalu Fonnie, Alex Moigboi, Alice Kovoma, Mohamed Fullah and Sheik Umar Khan worked with lead researchers at Harvard University to examine the current outbreak.
In a report published by Science Magazine, scientists were able to use genomes from 78 patients and trace the outbreak back to East Africa, Sierra Leone to the funeral of a healer, which a pregnant Kenema Government Hospital Ebola patient and other women who were also infected at the time had attended.
Mr Sheik Umar Khan, a 39-year-old virologist who is personally credited with treating more than 100 Ebola victims, had been admitted to a treatment ward at the heart of the outbreak in Kailahun in July. Two months before his death, he had described the dangers of treating people with the disease. I remember reading this interview and thinking that what these doctors were doing deserved a medal for their outstanding efforts. He said “I am afraid for my life, I must say, because I cherish my life. Health workers are prone to the disease because we are the first port of call for somebody who is sickened by the disease. Even with the full protective clothing you put on, you are at risk.” At the time of his diagnosis, it was not immediately clear how Dr. Khan became infected. While health workers are especially vulnerable to contracting the virus spread through bodily fluids such as saliva, sweat, blood and urine, Reuters reporters who visited Kenema in June heard the doctor was “always meticulous with protection, wearing overalls, mask, gloves and special footwear”.
What is the experimental Ebola vaccine? According to the CDC, it’s called ZMAPP and it’s being developed by Mapp Biopharmaceutical Inc. as an experimental treatment. It has not yet been tested by humans for safety or effectiveness. The product is a combination of three different monoclonal antibodies that bind to the protein of the Ebola virus. At the moment, the manufacturer has stated that all of the available doses of the drug have been distributed. These were very few, and since the product is still in an experimental stage, it’s too early to know whether the ZMapp is effective.
The National Institutes of Health have stated that they were not involved with procuring, transporting, approving or administering the experimental treatments. This experimental treatment was arranged privately by Samaritan's Purse, the private humanitarian organization, which employed one of the Americans who contracted the virus in Liberia. Samaritan's Purse contacted the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), who referred them to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). NIH was able to provide the organization with the appropriate contacts at the private company developing this treatment.
According to The Hill, The National Institutes of Health (NIH) confirmed Thursday that it will start testing a vaccine candidate on humans next week for the first time ever. Several other Phase 1 clinical trials will follow this fall, including a potential safety study on healthy adults in Nigeria, officials said.
Despite the progress, the NIH said it could not predict when vaccines might be available to use against the current epidemic. "It's really impossible to predict when people will be able to have it to use," said Anthony S. Fauci, director of the NIH's National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. "We will get data on safety and whether this [initial] vaccine induces the kind of immune response we hope to see ... by the end of this calendar year. Then, we have to look at what those results are." Fauci and NIH Director Francis Collins tamped down questions about whether a vaccine could make a difference on the ground in Africa this year. "The real solution is to implement public health measures" to contain the virus, Fauci said. The first three volunteers in the trial will receive the vaccine next week at an NIH facility in Bethesda, Md.
The announcement comes after significant pressure on U.S. officials to respond to the rising number of Ebola deaths with experimental vaccines and treatments. The NIH did not announce any human trials for Ebola drugs, saying those medications remain in the pre-clinical trial stage, despite some limited use in Americans who contracted the virus in West Africa. Fauci said officials must be cautious as they develop the Ebola vaccines and any potential treatments. “This is the first time the vaccine has been in a human," he said of the new trial.
"I have been fooled enough [in past trials] ... that you really can't predict what you might see. The worst thing in the world you could do is to let something widely out before you have tested safety. That would violate scientific and ethnical principles." The vaccine would ultimately take the form of one or two shots for people at high risk of contracting Ebola, such as healthcare workers. "This is not geared toward after someone gets infected," Fauci said. "It is purely, in our minds, a preventative vaccine to be given prior to infection.
Despite the many factors with this vaccine, we can only hope for the best. This is definitely a step in the right direction. There are certain other aspects about Ebola that I might write about in a later article, so keep your eyes out for it. In the meantime, I hope that all of you stay safe in your travels, make sure to have all your bases covered when it comes to healthy standards and remember to live life everyday as if it were your last, because there’s only one sure thing in life, we’re not promised a tomorrow.
To Your Health! Carol