Ebola Virus Is Over in Liberia, New Case Confirmed in Sierra Leone

Ebola Virus
The World Health Organization (WHO) had declared an end to the 2014 Ebola epidemic in West Africa on Thursday, Jan. 14, 2016. They have had to rescind this announcement, however, within a few hours of making the statement. A victim who died in Sierra Leone the previous week was found to have died from the virus, according to the BBC. The Ebola virus has five known strains, two of them are responsible for 95 percent of Ebola deaths since 1976 when the virus was first identified.

The Zaire Ebola strain is responsible for the most recent outbreak in 2014, which is the most deadly outbreak of the virus in history. The Sudan Ebola virus strain killed more than 200 people between 2000-2001. The 2014 epidemic has ravaged Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone for two years, killing over 11,000 people. LiveScience’s Christopher Wanjek reports while there is no known vaccine against the deadly virus, there is a single treatment available proven to fight two of the worst strains. The treatment is 100 percent effective in protecting infected laboratory mice against the Zaire and Sudan strains of the Ebola virus.

The WHO declared Liberia Ebola-free as of Thursday, Jan. 14, 2016, as “it has been 42 days since the cases in Liberia were tested as negative.” Liberia was the last country to fall under the Ebola virus, it was also the hardest hit, with 4,800 deaths reported. The last patients in Liberia were a father and younger brother of a 15-year-old victim. They were released on Dec. 3, 2015. No information has been released yet about the case in Sierra Leone.

Unfortunately, a few hours after WHO declared Liberia to be Ebola-free, two tests conducted on a person in Sierra Leone confirms they died from the virus earlier this week. The BBC reports that health officials are looking for any people who may have come in contact with the victim. The WHO has stressed that despite their announcement that Liberia is cleared of the infection, flare-ups of the Ebola virus may occur. This was proven to be true with the new case emerging in Sierra Leone. A region can be labeled Ebola-free if there are no new cases within 42 days of the last case coming up as negative. Liberia has been declared clear two times before, only to have the virus show up elsewhere. New cases showing up in neighboring countries are a significant risk and it has happened before. Medical research geared towards battling the deadly strains of the virus continues to be an international goal.

On Wednesday, Jan. 13th, 2016, a medical report submitted to scientific journals disclosed that a therapeutic approach was found to be effective in preventing two of the most deadly strains of the Ebola virus. The study was conducted by a team of scientists headed by Dr. Jonathan Lai, associate professor of biochemistry, of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York and Dr. John Dye, a chief of viral immunology, at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases in Frederick, Maryland.

They assert that their groundbreaking work is the first to be effective against the two main strains and possibly against the remaining three as well. The medicine blocks the virus’ ability to enter and reproduce in cells. Wanjek notes that the Ebola virus is studded with hooked molecules called glycoproteins. The glycoproteins help the virus invade cells, but Lai and his fellow scientists engineered antibodies that stick to the glycoproteins and prevent the cell from becoming infected. Their work is particularly notable due to being bi-specific, meaning that the antibodies still work to prevent infection even if they are attached to a different strain of the virus. This preventative measure is equally effective against the Zaire and Sudan strains.

This may sound like a definitive measure against the most deadly strains of Ebola virus, but there is more work to be done. Lai affirmed that, in the case of another outbreak, the therapy could be used confidently to help the ill without knowing the exact strain, but the antibody first has to be tested in larger animals, and eventually, on humans infected with the virus. He also mentioned that the therapy is not a vaccine, which would be administered to prevent the virus altogether. This is intended for those already suffering, and possibly, for people who have to be around others who have been infected, such as healthcare workers or family members. New studies will show whether these new preventative therapies work equally among humans as they do for mice, but the additional work is monumental in its implications.

In a strange coincidence, Russian President Vladimir Putin declared on Jan. 14, 2016, that the Russian government has developed two vaccines for Ebola. Newsweek stated that Putin gave no details, names, or exactly who was working on this vaccine. Health Minister Veronika Skvortsova has disclosed that a government meeting occurred with Putin and discussed a vaccine that had no equivalent in the world. In October of 2014, Skvortsova had reported that Russia was expected to produce three Ebola vaccines in the next six months, one of which was ready for clinical trials.

By Juanita Lewis
Edited by Leigh Haugh

LiveScience: Scientists make Gains on ‘Universal’ Ebola Medicine
Al-Jazeera America: World Health Organization to declare Ebola Outbreak Over
The BBC: Ebola virus: New case emerges in Sierra Leone
Newsweek: Putin says Russia has made “highly effective” Ebola Vaccine
Image Courtesy of NIAID’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License

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