WEST AFRICA — With nearly 2,000 suspected or confirmed Ebola cases, the disease is setting new records in West Africa. Since March, the Ebola virus has killed 1,000 people, and it continues to spread. Until now, there have been no proven vaccinations or treatments that effectively fight the disease, but researchers have announced that a new drug, ZMapp, could potentially be an effective weapon in the battle against Ebola.
The Ebola virus is transmitted to people from wild animals and then spread through human-to-human contact. The first outbreaks occurred in 1976 in Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Subsequent outbreaks have occurred predominantly in remote villages in Central and West Africa, with areas near tropical rainforests being the most impacted.
The Ebola outbreak today has become so severe in countries such as Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone that the World Health Organization deemed it medically ethical to utilize experimental treatments, vaccines and drugs on Ebola patients. ZMapp is one such experimental drug, which has yet to be tested on humans, but has been successful when used on infected monkeys.
Three different patients have thus far been administered ZMapp. Dr. Kent Brantly and Nancy Writebol, both American aid workers, were treated in Liberia and subsequently transferred back to the United States. Both patients are reportedly recovering, but U.S. health officials haven’t confirmed yet whether or not the drug played a part in their recovery. The third patient was Spanish missionary Miguel Pajares, who passed away last month.
Currently, no Africans have been given the experimental medication, which has raised ethical questions. Many have questioned who should receive the doses from ZMapp’s limited supply and whether or not it is medically ethical to administer a drug that has yet to be tested on humans for safety or efficacy.
Today, the standard treatment for the Ebola virus in countries where outbreaks are extremely severe remains intensive supportive care. Dehydration is one of the more crippling symptoms of Ebola and patients must receive oral rehydration solutions made with electrolytes, or intravenous fluids, among other round-the-clock treatments.
What the World Health Organization refers to as the “world’s most virulent disease,” is indeed a powerful killer. Between 50-65 percent of all of the known infected people in the world have died from Ebola. The number of deaths relates directly to the quality of treatment. ZMapp could potentially be the miracle drug that halts these harrowing statistics, finding a treatment for a disease that is rampaging parts of the developing world today.
– Elizabeth Nutt