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Major Breakthrough Made In The Treatment Of Ebola Virus

The treatment may not be ready to help those with Ebola in the Congo outbreak, but the promise is that countries affected by the virus could have the treatment

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A Congolese health worker administers Ebola vaccine to a woman who had contact with an Ebola sufferer in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Aug. 18, 2018. VOA

In northeastern Congo, more than 600 people have fallen ill with the Ebola virus, and at least 368 people have died from the disease. It’s been difficult to contain the virus because of conflict in the region, despite medical advances, including a vaccine.

The Democratic Republic of Congo is where Ebola was first discovered in 1976, when the country was called Zaire. The disease was named after the Ebola River where the virus was spreading. Between then and 2013, there was no treatment or a vaccine. The outbreak ran its course in quarantined communities.

Scientists started studying the virus, however, trying to come up with better ways to handle its various deadly strains. They succeeded in producing a vaccine to help end the Ebola epidemic that swept through three West African countries between 2013 and 2016. More than 11,000 people died in that outbreak.

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Tom Geisbert, right, a professor of Microbiology and Immunology at the University of Texas Medical Branch, explains to Texas Gov. Rick Perry the work researchers are conducting in a Bio Safety Level 4 lab in the Galveston National Laboratory, Oct. VOA

Treatment found

At that time, treatment for the Zaire strain of Ebola was developed. It was costly to produce and didn’t work on two other lethal strains, the Sudan and Bundibugyo viruses.

But now scientists have found one. Their research produced a drug cocktail called MBP134 that helped monkeys infected with three deadly strains of Ebola recover from the disease.

What’s more, the treatment requires a single intravenous injection.

Thomas Geisbert, Ph.D., led the research at the University of Texas Medical Branch, part of a public-private partnership that also included Mapp Biopharmaceutical, the U.S. Army Research Institute of Infectious Diseases, and the Public Health Agency of Canada.

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Medical staff are sterilized before entering the isolation unit at a hospital in Bundibugyo, western Uganda, on Aug. 17, 2018, where there is one suspected case of Ebola. VOA

Must treat all strains

In an interview with VOA, Geisbert stressed the need for a treatment that would be effective against all strains of Ebola.

“When an outbreak occurs, we really don’t know which one of those three strains, species, we call them, is the cause of that particular episode,” Geisbert said.

He added that the treatments available have been effective only against the Zaire species, which leaves people infected with the other species unprotected.

“Our goal was to develop a treatment that would work regardless of the particular strain of Ebola that was causing it,” Geisbert said.

“If I have to make a drug that only works against Zaire, and another drug that only works against Sudan and another drug that only works against the Bundibugyo species, that is extremely expensive,” he added.

Geisbert said the treatment will save valuable time in determining which strain of Ebola is circulating in a particular outbreak. It will save lives because people can be treated immediately, and it will also save money.

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Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) workers talk to a worker at an isolation facility, prepared to receive suspected Ebola cases, at the Mbandaka General Hospital, in Mbandaka, Democratic Republic of Congo, May 20, 2018. VOA

No profit

There’s no profit for the pharmaceutical companies that produce the drugs.

“It’s not like you’re making up vaccine for flu where companies [are] going to make a profit. There’s really a small global market for Ebola so it really has to be sponsored by the government,” he said.

In addition to the U.S. Army and the Canadian government, the U.S. National Institutes of Health has supported much of this research.

Geisbert said the work ahead involves tweaking the dose to its lowest possible amount, making it easier to distribute — again to reduce costs — and conducting clinical trials in humans to ensure the treatment is safe and effective.

Geisbert is confident it will work in humans, although he cautioned that in science, nothing is certain.

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A health care worker carries a cross next to a coffin with a baby suspected of dying of Ebola in Beni, North Kivu Province of Democratic Republic of Congo, Dec. 13, 2018. VOA

The treatment may not be ready to help those with Ebola in the Congo outbreak, but the promise is that countries affected by the virus could have the treatment at the ready to stop future Ebola outbreaks.

Also Read: Congo’s President Challenges Election Result In High Court

It also means that should someone with Ebola walk into a hospital outside of Africa, as happened in Texas when a Liberian man sought treatment, the patient can be cured, and health care workers can be protected. (VOA)

Next Story

Tanzania Refuses to Provide Detailed Information on Ebola Cases

Tanzania is refusing to provide detailed information on suspected Ebola cases, the World Health Organization (WHO) said, a rare public rebuke as the region struggles to contain an outbreak declared a global health emergency

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A child is vaccinated against Ebola in Beni, Democratic Republic of the Congo, July 13, 2019. VOA

Tanzania is refusing to provide detailed information on suspected Ebola cases, the World Health Organization (WHO) said, a rare public rebuke as the region struggles to contain an outbreak declared a global health emergency.

Transparency and speed are key to combating the deadly hemorrhagic fever because the disease can spread rapidly. Contacts of any potentially infected person must be quarantined and the public warned to step up precautions like hand washing.

WHO said in a statement released late Saturday that it was made aware Sept. 10 of the death of a patient in Dar es Salaam, and unofficially told the next day that the person tested positive for Ebola. The woman had died Sept. 8.

“Identified contacts of the deceased were unofficially reported to be quarantined in various sites in the country,” the statement said.

Unofficial information

WHO said it was unofficially told that Tanzania had two other possible Ebola cases. One had tested negative and there was no information on the other one.

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Dar es Salaam and Morogoro, Tanzania map. VOA

Officially, the Tanzanian government said last weekend it had no confirmed or suspected cases of Ebola. The government did not address the death of the woman directly and did not provide any further information.

Despite several requests, “clinical data, results of the investigations, possible contacts and potential laboratory tests performed … have not been communicated to WHO,” the U.N. health agency said. “The limited available official information from Tanzanian authorities represents a challenge.”

Authorities in east and central Africa have been on high alert for possible spill-overs of Ebola from the Democratic Republic of Congo where a year-long outbreak has killed more than 2,000 people.

Last week the U.S. health secretary, Alex Azar criticized Tanzania for its failure to share information on the possible outbreak. The next day he dispatched a senior U.S. health official to Tanzania.

Quick response works

Uganda, which neighbors Congo, has recorded several cases after sick patients crossed the border. A quick government response there prevented the disease from spreading.

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WHO said it was unofficially told that Tanzania had two other possible Ebola cases. One had tested negative and there was no information on the other one. Pixabay

The 34-year-old woman who died in Dar es Salaam had traveled to Uganda, according to a leaked internal WHO document circulated earlier this month. She showed signs of Ebola including headache, fever, rash, bloody diarrhea Aug. 10 and died Sept. 8.

Tanzania is heavily reliant on tourism and an outbreak of Ebola would likely lead to a dip in visitor numbers.

ALSO READ: Here’s How Kids Learn Hacking Through Their Behaviour

The WHO statement is not the first time international organizations have queried information from the government of President John Magufuli, nicknamed The Bulldozer for his pugnacious ruling style.

Earlier this year both the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund contradicted the government’s economic growth figure for 2018. (VOA)