September 16, 2014 / Mike Siegel MD
It’s true that the latest Ebola statistics are grim. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), over 1,900 people have died from the dangerous disease, with 3,500 reported cases across the globe. Now, the WHO projects that the number of infections may rise as high 20,000 unless the epidemic is controlled, fast.
Ebola spreads through contact with the body fluids of those who are infected. The disease can be contained by isolating anyone who is infected and by avoiding areas of Ebola outbreak. Frequent hand washing is also important for anyone in an area where Ebola is present. Health officials attribute the rapid escalation of this disease to a severe lack of health care facilities, trained nurses, doctors and ambulance drivers in the most effected regions. The problem is exacerbated by the unsafe burial of people who have died from the virus.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Dr. Tom Frieden offers some hope, however. Says Frieden, “There is a window of opportunity to tamp this down.” He cautions, “But that window is closing. We need action now to scale up the response.” Leaders from from Doctors Without Borders and the United Nations join Frieden in calling for a global increase in health care facilities and professionals to care for the sick.
Preventive measures are in the works as of this week. The National Institutes of Health and GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) launched the first human trials for experimental Ebola vaccines. Results from earlier non-human trials yielded promising results, and GSK is expected to manufacture up to 10,000 doses of the vaccine in the event that the initial human safety trials prove successful.
There may also be progress in formulating a cure. William Pooley, a British volunteer nurse infected with Ebola, recently underwent treatment that included the experimental drug ZMapp—and his caregivers found him to be virus-free.
As the world continues to watch closely over the epidemic, here’s hoping we’ll get to see more news of the hopeful variety.