The Ebola outbreak in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has now surpassed the country’s outbreak earlier in the year, and officials from the World Health Organization (WHO) said they are are “even more worried” after visiting the affected communities.
At a press briefing at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, PhD, said that as of yesterday, there are now 57 cases, including 30 confirmed, and there have been 41 deaths — surpassing the 53 cases and 29 deaths in the prior outbreak.
Security continues to be a major problem in this part of the DRC, with more than 100 armed groups operating in the province. Ghebreyesus said that since January, the area has seen 120 violent incidents.
“The night we stayed in Bene, there was fighting within 15 km [of us], four civilians were killed, and many were kidnapped.”
Ghebreyesus added that “red zones” — where armed groups are operating — are extremely conducive to transmitting Ebola, and that infected people in those areas may be unable to move to get the treatment they need.
In addition to security, officials also cited high population density, as well as the number of healthcare workers already infected with Ebola in the city of Mangina, as issues that are unique to this outbreak.
Since the latest Ebola outbreak began, researchers have renewed their search for an effective way to fight the deadly virus. Now, a new study finds that giving Ebola patients a drug that is currently used to treat malaria may lower their risk of dying from the virus by almost one-third. Meanwhile, a separate study finds that treating Ebola patients with blood plasma taken from Ebola survivors does not lower their risk of death.
Together, the findings show that when it comes to finding effective treatments for Ebola, there are still a lot of unknowns, and therefore, prevention and vaccine development remain key, experts say. Both findings are published online today (Jan. 6) in the New England Journal of Medicine.
[The result} translates to a 31 percent lower risk of death in the patients who took artesunate–amodiaquine, compared with those who took [artemether–lumefantrine].
The ultimate answer probably lies in good isolation techniques and an effective immunization.
Last year, scientists launched a trial of an experimental vaccine against Ebola in Guinea. On Friday, they reported great news: The vaccine works well, providing remarkable protection just 10 days after injection.
“We have to stop and celebrate the fact that an innovative trial design was able to come up, in the middle of an emergency, with pretty strong results,” said Dr. Seth Berkley, the chief executive officer of Gavi, an alliance of public and private organizations that provides greater access to vaccines in developing countries. “Let’s start with that.”
But let’s not end with that.
Dr. Berkley and other vaccine experts note a grim irony. Scientists showed that this vaccine was effective in monkeys a decade ago. Thereafter, the vaccine lingered in scientific limbo.
Faster, please, on SARS and MERS viruses.
An Ebola vaccine being developed by British pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline has been deemed safe enough to be trialled soon. Healthy individuals in West African countries, where the virus has rampaged, will be the first to participate.
In an announcement reported by the Associated Press, Marie-Paule Kieny, the assistant director general of Health Systems and Innovation at the World Health Organization, revealed that both the GSK vaccine and one licensed by Merck and NewLink, have “an acceptable safety profile.”
According to Kieny, who is helping coordinate the hunt for an Ebola vaccine, six-month-long trials will begin in West Africa and health workers could be among the first to receive it. Doctors, nurses and volunteers continue to put themselves in harm’s way everyday in affected areas of Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia, with WHO revealing this week that around 800 have been infected since the outbreak. More than 8,000 people have died from the disease in total, including 500 health workers, and more than 20,000 have been infected.