As African Ebola Outbreak Spreads, Hopes for Vaccine Remain Years Away

Monday, April 14, 2014
By Paul Martin
April 14, 2014

As a major outbreak of deadly Ebola virus spreads through the West African nations of Guinea and Liberia, public health officials are struggling to contain the horror-movie pathogen before it slips into neighboring countries.

They must do so without the aid of any vaccines to prevent Ebola’s spread or medicines to treat Ebola infections. None currently exists.

But scientists say they are beginning to close in on ways to stop the virus. Several promising vaccines and medications are under development, although all are still years from availability, said Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID).

Currently, the best treatment for Ebola involves providing fluid to the patient to replace the bleeding that occurs from all orifices as the hemorrhagic fever destroys the body from within.

“If you have a medical facility to give you blood or plasma or fluid, you’re not specifically attacking the Ebola, but you’re giving the patient a better chance of surviving,” Fauci explained. “Some people who have the best medical care still die, and there are some people with no care who survive. But you have the best chance if you have medical care.”

As of late last week, the number of suspected cases in Guinea had swelled to 158, with 101 deaths, according to the World Health Organization. There are 25 reported cases in nearby Liberia, including 12 deaths.

Most deaths have occurred in the southeastern Guinea city of Guekedou, which lies near the borders of Sierra Leone and Liberia. Suspected cases have been reported in Sierra Leone, Mali and Ghana, but none has been confirmed.

Ebola’s average death rate is about 70 percent, but can range between 20 percent and 90 percent depending on the strain, Fauci said.

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