The current Ebola outbreak in West Africa is forcing biologists into a race for a cure to curtail the spread of the virus. The virus first appeared in Guinea in February and has quickly spread to neighboring countries. Recent statistics have placed the number of dead at over 700. Two American doctors, involved with helping those infected have also contacted the virus and are being returned to the U.S. for treatment.
Ebola, caused by the contraction of a virus, is generally spread through direct contact with another affected person or animal. Approximately 60% of the infected people have not survived the disease. Early symptoms include fever, throat and muscle pains in addition to headaches approximately two days to three weeks after first contracting it . As the virus progresses, symptoms advance to include nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. Decreased functions of the kidneys and liver occur and some people begin to have problems with bleeding.
One of the infected doctors, Dr. Kent Brantly, arrived in the U.S. and is being treated at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta. Nancy Writebol will arrive within a few days. Both patients were serving in Liberia as medical missionaries.
Doctors are confident that both patients can be treated without placing the public in danger. There are extraordinary precautions being taken as the two doctors are being placed in a special isolation unit specifically designed for high-risk patients suffering from serious infectious diseases. The unit is physically apart from other patient areas and has special equipment that provides a very high level of clinical isolation.
Ebola virus infections have no cure, and laboratories are racing to find one. At Emory the staff will try to ease the patient’s symptoms and provide better monitoring of fluids and vital signs. Since there is no specific treatment for Ebola, all that can be done is to make them as comfortable as possible and let the body fight the virus naturally.
The World Health Organization (WHO) director-general, Dr. Margaret Chan, said that the virus has now spread to three African capitals and that the organization’s $100 million response plan will deploy hundreds of additional healthcare workers. She further states that the virus must be stopped and the WHO has no further resources should the virus continue to spread.
Because Ebola is so rare, manufacturers have found it financially improbable to mass produce and its rarity also prevents scientists from conducting field studies. Prior to this outbreak, there have been only 2,000 known cases since it was discovered in 1976. The current outbreak in West Africa has infected over 1,300 people and has become the largest Ebola outbreak in history. The outbreak has prompted thousands of people to sign a petition asking that development and distribution of curing vaccines and drugs be fast tracked.
The race to find a cure for Ebola is continuing. With the current efforts being taken, Dr. Thomas Frieden, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guessed that it would take at least three to six months to curb the epidemic in West Africa. He does not know when a vaccine might become available.
By Hans Benes