Work on Ebola being thwarted by difficulties getting virus samples
US scientists don't lack motivation to track changes that might be occurring in the Ebola virus and to develop new drugs, vaccines, and diagnostics, but obtaining a steady supply of fresh samples of the virus for study and testing is proving problematic, Reuters reported today.
The shortage of samples stems from two general problems: limited resources in the areas from which the samples are sought as the countries struggle to manage patients, and growing caution on the part of regulators and transport companies for the actual handling of specimens even when they are made available.
"All the companies working on vaccines, diagnostics and treatment are complaining about lack of access to viral samples," Laurie Garrett, senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York, said.
Garrett points out that safe transport of samples is an especially sensitive issue in view of mismanagement of anthrax and H5N1 avian flu specimens by high-containment US laboratories this past summer.
Since Ebola mutates as it spreads, experimental pharmaceuticals need to be tested against the current strains circulating to make sure any changes in the virus do not render them ineffective, the story points out.
Importing the virus into the United States has become more difficult since Thomas Duncan brought the first case of Ebola to Dallas in early October and safety concerns skyrocketed. "You can divide the outbreak into pre-Dallas and post-Dallas," remarked John Schieffelin, MD, a Tulane University physician who has treated patients in West Africa.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention claims to have agreements with Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia to obtain live samples in "a matter of weeks," says the story, and plans to share them with other institutions.
Given the bottleneck in importing African samples of Ebola virus, US patients who have recovered from the infection, such as two nurses who treated Duncan, are being sought after for blood samples.
Nov 5 Reuters story
Most recent (Aug 15) CIDRAP News story on mishandling of lethal agents
Guinea case series: Younger Ebola patients fared better
Ebola patients who were 40 and older had 3.5 times the risk of death compared with those under 40, according to a case series published today on 37 patients in Conakry, Guinea's capital.
The 37 patients had lab-confirmed Ebola virus disease (EVD), out of 80 who had Ebola-like symptoms from Mar 25 to Apr 26 of this year. The median age of confirmed case-patients was 38; 24 (65%) were men and 14 (38%) were healthcare workers, 12 of whom contracted the disease in a healthcare setting.
Those with confirmed EVD sought medical care a median of 5 days after symptom onset. The most common symptoms were fever (84%), fatigue (65%), and diarrhea (62%). All of the patients received antibiotics, and 28 (76%) were treated with intravenous fluids.
Sixteen (43%) of the patients died. The risk of death was 3.49 in those 40 and older compared with the younger patients.
The authors conclude, "Greater capacity to deliver supportive care and monitor the response to therapy may improve clinical outcomes."
Nov 5 N Engl J Med study
Ebola outbreak overwhelms West African economies
The ongoing West African outbreak of Ebola is projected to cause massive losses in gross domestic product (GDP), rising food costs, and increased hunger in the region, according to a recent United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) report.
The UNDP projects that the three nations primarily affected by the outbreak—Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia—will lose a combined $1.17 billion in GDP due to the effects of Ebola.
Many of the socioeconomic consequences of the disease are being felt in the agricultural sector. The price of cassava, a food staple in much of West Africa, has increased 150% since the outbreak began in March. High food prices and loss of livelihood because of disease or lack of investment may lead to rising hunger in West Africa, the UNDP said.
In addition to agricultural-sector disruptions, the Ebola outbreak has also caused declines in economic growth in the tourism industry. The UNDP reported that government costs associated with keeping the disease contained with quarantine, border control, and effective personal protective equipment have also drained national funds in West Africa.
The UNDP is deploying an additional 130 staff to the affected countries to assist in disease containment and mitigate economic effects. Proposed UNDP projects include engaging communities to help with Ebola disease containment and security in Guinea, training and providing telecommunications equipment to security personnel in Liberia, and providing basic goods to Ebola survivors in Sierra Leone.
The UNDP also plans to facilitate cash transfers and other programs to rebuild the affected economies.
Nov 5 UNDP Ebola update