WHO’s Got a Handle on Ebola?

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By Collin Myers, Technical Writer/Marketing Assistant

The World Health Organization (WHO) has released figures showing that the recent outbreak of Ebola Virus has killed 1,013 people and infected 1,848. Outdated, traditional methods of suppressing the virus, such as wearing protective gear and contact tracing, have been mostly ineffective. But perhaps the biggest factor in the recent spread of Ebola has more to do with economic issues than medical and health care-related anomalies, as the virus has been ravaging poor villages in Western Africa, leading WHO and other worldwide medical and scientific organizations to question the method of treatment and the availability of newly designed drugs to help fight the outbreak moving forward.

The ethical concern that has come to the forefront of the Ebola treatment crisis is the question of whether or not it is safe to provide new, experimental drugs that have no overwhelming consistency or efficacy in human patients. So far, all testing of these new “cocktails??? have only shown promising efficacy in animal testing trials.

Controversy surrounding the Ebola outbreak stems from the fact that two American missionaries have already received treatment for the virus and appear to be recovering, while the underdeveloped villages in Africa have yet to receive widespread, comprehensive medical assistance from the global community. Miguel Pajares, a Spanish priest working in Liberia, was not as fortunate as the American patients, and succumbed to the virus in a Madrid hospital on August 12th.

Herein lies the major problem with experimental medicines – there is no proven way to measure how effective treatment will be without thorough, human clinical trials. But at present, there are no better options than to take a chance, and try to use the new drug, known as ZMapp, to stop the virus from spreading beyond Africa.

ZMapp is a cocktail combining three monoclonal antibodies (MAbs) taken from living cells and designed to neutralize the Ebola virus. Most test trials have shown positive results in primate studies, but a full knowledge of the drug’s potential safety hazards and side effects is still mostly unknown. Mapp Biopharmaceutical, a San Diego-based biotech manufacturer, has already exhausted its complete supply of product after sending its full inventory to aid the dire regions of West Africa most in need of assistance.

Dr. Kent Brantly, one of the two American citizens infected with Ebola and recently hospitalized in the United States, was reportedly near death before his treatment with ZMapp. His symptoms began to improve within one hour of receiving treatment, an immensely hopeful sign for the entire global community that progress is well underway.

Medical experts estimate that most deaths from Ebola occur eight to ten days after initial infection. Common symptoms include: high fever, headache, joint and muscle pain, weakness, stomach pain, nausea, diarrhea, internal bleeding, and central nervous system damage. The virus is transmitted through hand to hand contact, exposure to bodily fluids, urine, or contact with infected animals like monkeys, chimps, and fruit bats. Blood tests will diagnose the virus, and infected patients will be isolated from the public immediately to prevent the disease from spreading.

Mapp Biopharmaceutical is already collaborating with various government agencies to speed up manufacturing of ZMapp. A branch of the US Defense Department has agreed to fund human clinical trials of ZMapp. The question looming around the world, especially in impoverished nations in West Africa, is how long will progress take? And at what cost? Every day spent on research and human testing is another day that lives will likely be lost while scientists race to discover a treatment for this rapidly-spreading virus.