Published On: Wed, Aug 14th, 2019

Ebola crisis: What is Ebola? Why is the new Ebola drug so controversial? | World | News

The Ebola virus disease, also known as Ebola haemorrhagic fever or simply Ebola, is a virus which affects humans and other primates caused by ebolaviruses. In 2014 and 2015, there was a major outbreak of Ebola which affected mainly three countries in west Africa: Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, although some cases also arose in central Africa. Around 28,000 cases and more than 11,000 deaths were reported by the World Health Organisation as a result of this outbreak. So why exactly is a new drug tackling the disease so controversial?

What is Ebola?

Ebola is a viral disease which originated in Africa.

A person infected will Ebola typically develops a high temperature, headache, joint and muscle pain, sore throat and severe muscle weakness between two and 21 days after becoming infected.

This is typically followed by vomiting, diarrhoea and rash, along with decreased function of the liver and kidneys.

At this time, some people begin to bleed both internally and externally.

The disease has a high risk of death, killing between 25 and 90 percent of those infected, with an average of about 50 percent – mostly as a result of low blood pressure from fluid loss, and typically follows six to sixteen days after symptoms appear.

Ebola crisis: Ebola crisis vaccinations

Ebola crisis: Why is the new Ebola virus drug so controversial? (Image: GETTY)

The Ebola virus is spread in the blood, body fluids or organs of a person or animal with the infection.

For example, it can be spread by:

  • Directly touching the body of someone with the infection who has symptoms or recently died as the virus can survive for several days outside the body

  • Cleaning up body fluids (blood, stools, urine or vomit) or touching the soiled clothing of an infected person

  • Handling unsterilised needles or medical equipment used in the care of the infected person

  • Having sex with an infected person without using a condom – studies show traces of Ebola may remain in a man’s semen many months after he has recovered

  • Handling or eating raw or undercooked “bushmeat”

However, it cannot be caught through routine social contact, such as shaking hands, with people who don’t have symptoms.

Ebola crisis: Ebola crisis

Ebola crisis: Ebola is spread in the blood, body fluids or organs of the infected person or animal (Image: GETTY)

Scientists have said the disease may soon by “preventable and treatable” after a trial of two drugs showed significantly improved survival rates.

Four drugs were trialled on patients in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where there is a major outbreak of the virus, with more than 90 percent of infected people were shown to survive if treated early enough with the most effective drugs, according to the research.

Health officials have now said the drugs will be used to treat all patients with the disease in DR Congo.

Ebola crisis: Ebola vaccination

Ebola crisis: Scientists say that the disease may soon be “preventable and treatable” (Image: GETTY)

Why is the new drug so controversial?

The DR Congo Health Minister, Dr Oly Ilunga, who resigned after being stripped of management of the country’s Ebola response, said the current vaccine is the only one that has been proven to be effective.

However, an opposition MP has said the new vaccine is untested and fears people in the country will be used as guinea pigs.

Leading health experts report the second vaccine is safe and could help reduce the spread of the virus.

Ebola crisis: Vaccination for Ebola

Ebola crisis: An MP from Congo has said the vaccine is relatively untested (Image: GETTY)

But there are still concerns the virus has not been thoroughly tested.

During the trial phase, it was tested on more than 6,000 people and the results showed “outstanding safety” according to experts.

Although the drug is still in the experimental stage, it was also proven to be highly effective in tests on primates (animals genetically close to humans).

Dr Jeremy Farrar, Director of Wellcome and co-chair of the WHO Ebola Therapeutics Group, said: “This trial – the first-ever multi-drug randomised trial for Ebola – has happened despite such highly complex and challenging circumstances.

Ebola crisis: Ebola checks

Ebola crisis: The vaccine was tested on more than 6,000 people (Image: GETTY)

“A long-running outbreak like this takes a terrible toll on the communities affected and it is a sign of just how difficult this epidemic has been to control that there have already been enough patients treated to tell us more about the efficacy of these four drugs.

“Thanks to this trial we are starting to understand which treatments to offer to patients in this and future outbreaks. This will save undoubtedly lives.

“The next phase of the trial should tell us more about the remaining two treatments and which works best in certain settings.

“The more we learn about these two treatments, and how they can complement the public health response, including contact tracing and vaccination, the closer we can get to turning Ebola from a terrifying disease to one that is preventable and treatable.

Ebola crisis: Ebola response

Ebola crisis: The new vaccine is so far effective in more than 90 percent of cases (Image: GETTY)

“We won’t ever get rid of Ebola but we should be able to stop these outbreaks from turning into major national and regional epidemics.

“We should all pay tribute to the brave healthcare workers who have provided the best possible care in conducting this trial, as well as the sponsor and organisations who have supported this vital research.”

The latest vaccine is the second to effectively tackle Ebola – however, the first vaccine by the Merck & Co drug company, which has a 97.5 percent efficacy rate, is said to be in short supply according to the WHO Emergency Committee.

Ebola crisis: Ebola vaccinations

Ebola crisis: The first Ebola vaccine has a 97.5 percent efficacy rate (Image: GETTY)

The Democratic Republic of Congo’s government wants to roll out immunisation across a wider area in a bid to create a protective wall and prevent the spread of the disease.

The government has raised concerns about the difficulties of using two vaccines together in the response adding there is a risk of creating confusion and mistrust among affected communities.

There are also concerns that the new vaccine, which requires two injections 56 days apart, is difficult to administer in a location where insecurity is high and the population is highly mobile.

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