The most recent Ebola outbreak dominated the global news in 2014. Over twenty-one thousand cases have been found and eight thousand five hundred deaths have been caused by this lethal disease, according to the World Health Organisation’s latest figures*. There have been more reported cases of Ebola in this latest outbreak affecting West Africa including Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, than in all previous outbreaks combined**.
Common symptoms include sudden fever, muscle pain, fatigue, headaches, sore throats and are often followed by vomiting, diarrhoea, a rash and bleeding (both internal and external) which can be seen in the gums, eyes and nose. Ebola is spread by direct contact through broken skin, or the mouth and nose, with the blood, vomit, faeces or bodily fluids of someone suffering from the Ebola virus**. Infection may also occur through direct contact with contaminated bedding, clothing and surfaces.
It can take between two and twenty-one days for humans suffering from Ebola to display symptoms** and a person is not contagious until symptoms develop. However evidence suggests that the infection can remain on surfaces up to six days and humans can remain infectious for as long as their blood and secretions contain the virus, which has been up to seven weeks in some reported cases**.
Healthcare workers are equipped with protective clothing, which can take up to twenty minutes to adopt and includes masks, gloves and protective boots. This protective clothing aids prevention, but is not 100% effective. Eight hundred and twenty-five cases of Ebola in Health Professionals were reported in 2014, of which nearly five hundred were fatal*. Currently there is no known cure for Ebola, but in 2014 a variety of experimental drug treatments were trialled alongside biological therapies. Results are inconclusive and further research will be carried out into 2015.
Currently there are three major vaccination trials being completed across the UK, US and Europe. Scientists at Oxford University began to immunise seventy-two healthy volunteers aged between 18 and 50 in January 2015***. Initial tests completed on monkeys showed the vaccine gave complete protection against Ebola. The vaccine developed by Johnson and Johnson is delivered in two parts, both containing a protein from the Zaire strain of the Ebola virus and the immune response the vaccine generates in antibodies and T-cells, will be measured over the course of the year. The trial’s organisers have stressed that the vaccine cannot cause anyone to be infected with Ebola***.
Johnson and Johnson hope to have two million doses of the vaccine available within 2015, following a larger phase two trial to be completed in Africa and Europe. Vaccines are hoped to be distributed in Liberia by April 2015 and Guinea and Sierra Leone by the middle of 2015. Two other trials are currently in progress by GlaxoSmithKline and Merck, with the view of rolling out larger trials to Liberia by the end of January 2015 and to Guinea and Sierra Leone in the first half of February 2015***.
These ground-breaking vaccines have the potential to revolutionise the prevention of future Ebola outbreaks and minimise the current outbreak. Although the trials are in their infancy and conclusive results have not yet been recorded, world-wide medicine is making great progress toward the effective treatment and prevention of the Ebola virus.