The dreaded disease which has gripped West Africa has already infected thousands of individuals and has resulted in 4,033 deaths as of October 10, 2014 . Ebola is a virus which has a current kill rate of 50%, reaching as high as 90% in previous epidemics. It manifests after 2 to 21 days with non-specific symptoms of the usual fever, head-ache and sore throat. If left untreated, it is known to cause liver and kidney failure, internal and external bleeding and eventually, death. Although originating from forest animals, this disease can now be transmitted from human to human via direct contact through broken skin or mucous membranes of bodily fluids of infected individuals.
Diagnosing the infection requires a high degree of suspicion as the symptoms are not specific to Ebola. Recent travel to an endemic country or recent exposure to a known infected person aids in the diagnosis. Confirmatory examinations include the ELISA, antigen-capture detection, serum-neutralization test, RT-PCR test, electron microscopy and virus isolation by cell culture.
There are currently no specific treatment protocols for Ebola infection. Supportive therapy is given to all individuals with the disease and more severe manifestations require intensive care. Convalescence therapy is a form of treatment undergoing studies and trials. In convalescence therapy, blood products from a person who has recovered from Ebola infection is administered to a patient who has Ebola disease. The goal of this trial is to improve the immune system and induce recovery in the diseased patient as well. There are no conclusive evidences to support that this form of therapy is effective as of yet. In fact, there are no evidences to claim that any specific therapy is effective for Ebola disease. For this reason, a large amount of effort goes into prevention of spread. These include protection of the healthcare workers, isolation and quarantine of infected persons and areas, identification and modification of practices which promote spread of the disease.
Since the WHO consensus last August that experimental medicines and vaccines may be used for the Ebola outbreak, two vaccines are now being tested for clinical evaluation. cAd3-ZEBOV carries an Ebola gene inside an adenovirus derived from a chimpanzee. cAd3-ZEBOV was developed by GloaxoSmithkline and the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease. The rVsV-ZEBOV carries an Ebola gene inside a vasicular stomatitis virus, a virus related to the rabies virus. The rVsV-ZEBOV was developed by the Public Health Agency of Canada in Winnipeg. Both vaccines are scheduled to undergo Phase 1 clinical trial in the US and Britain to determine safety, immunogenicity and appropriate dose. Hopes are high for these vaccines to improve immunity against Ebola. It would lead to certainty that we can stop the outbreak.