West Africa's Ebola count soars higher


The tally of Ebola cases in West Africa climbed to 3,685 as of Aug 31, with 1,841 deaths, representing a 20% jump over a 5-day period, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported today.

The total case count is 616 more than the 3,069 cases reported as of Aug 26 that were noted in the WHO's last update Aug 28. The death toll of 1,841 is 289 more than the previous one, an 18.6% increase. The numbers include cases in Liberia, Guinea, and Sierra Leone.

The figures were released as the WHO convened a 2-day meeting in Geneva on the use of experimental drugs and vaccines to battle the expanding epidemic.

The WHO's numbers include confirmed, probable, and suspected cases.

Liberia, the hardest-hit country, has had 1,698 cases and 871 deaths—increases of 320 and 177 since the previous update.

Guinea has recorded 123 more cases and 64 more deaths, raising its totals to 771 cases and 494 fatalities, according to the WHO.

Sierra Leone's tally as listed by the WHO is 1,216 cases and 476 deaths, up by 190 and 54. But an update issued by the Sierra Leone government today listed somewhat different total figures: 1,297 cases and 425 deaths.

Nigeria, meanwhile, has had 21 cases and 7 deaths, compared with 13 cases and 5 deaths cited in the previous update, the WHO reported. Senegal has had one nonfatal case so far.

Talks on drugs, vaccines begin

In Geneva today, the WHO opened a 2-day meeting to assess the use of experimental drugs and vaccines to combat the West African epidemic. The agency previously released a list of close to 200 technical experts, policy makers from affected countries, ethicists, clinicians, researchers, regulators, and patient representatives who were expected to attend.

The aims of the meeting are to look at the status of the untested drugs and vaccines and agree on the objectives of a plan for evaluating and using them, the WHO said. Additional goals are to identify the most important actions to take and to establish what support is required.

A WHO background document lists seven experimental therapies and two vaccines that will be examined at the meeting. The list is the product of a review of studies of the interventions in lab cultures and animals and of discussions with clinicians and virologists.

The therapies include ZMapp, made by Mapp Biopharmaceutical, which is a mixture of three monoclonal antibodies that are produced in tobacco plants. The drug has already been used in several patients and is thought to have contributed to the recovery of two American medical missionaries who contracted Ebola in Liberia.

Other therapies listed include convalescent plasma, hyperimmune globulin prepared from the plasma of immunized animals or previously infected humans, interferons, and products made by Tekmira, Sarepta, Toyama Chemical/Fuji Film, and BioCryst.

The backgrounder lists two recombinant vaccines that have yielded promising results in animal experiments. One involves a chimpanzee adenovirus that contains the gene for an Ebola virus surface protein. An early clinical trial of this vaccine is scheduled to start this month, and about 15,000 doses might be available by the end of this year, the report says.

The other vaccine consists of a recombinant vesicular stomatitis virus that produces an Ebola virus component; 800 doses are available. An early clinical trial is scheduled to start soon in the United States.

The report notes that a number of candidate Ebola vaccines have been tested in animals, but most are not available in formulations suitable for humans.

More vaccine news

Also today, several companies announced plans to speed up development of Ebola vaccines.

NewLink Genetics said it received Food and Drug Administration (FDA) clearance to launch phase 1 trials of its Ebola vaccine, while Johnson & Johnson announced it would fast-track development of its prime-boost vaccine for the disease. Also, Bavarian Nordic said it would accelerate its Ebola vaccine development in collaboration with the National Institutes of Health.

Meanwhile, Reuters reported today that an Ebola vaccine that the Canadian government offered to Ebola-hit countries 3 weeks ago is still stuck in a lab as officials try to figure out how to safely transport it. The story said NewLink Genetics owns the commercial license for the vaccine.

The Canadian government announced on Aug 12 that it would give 800 to 1,000 doses of the vaccine to the WHO for use in Africa. The doses are stored at Canada's National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg.

"We are now working with the WHO to address complex regulatory, logistical and ethical issues so that the vaccine can be safely and ethically deployed as rapidly as possible," said Health Canada spokesman Sean Upton in a statement quoted by Reuters.

Canadian officials could not predict when the vaccine would be shipped, the story said. Upton said one challenge is determining how to keep the vaccine cool enough to remain potent.

See also:

Sep 4 WHO update

Aug 28 WHO update

Sep 4 Sierra Leone update on Ebola

WHO press release on Ebola interventions meeting

WHO meeting background document

Sep 4 NewLink Genetics press release

Sep 4 Johnson & Johnson press release

Sep 4 Bavarian Nordic press release

Sep 4 Reuters story


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