Ebola is a rare hemorrhagic disease that is currently out of control in West Africa. The total number of outbreaks to date claimed 1700 lives, from 1976-2013.
The current outbreak, with 2,246 fatalities by August 31, 2014, exceeds all the previous outbreaks put together. What can the global community do to halt the spread of the disease? If more aid does not arrive, the victim count could reach 1,000,000 victims in the next 12 to 18 weeks.
Ebola Virus History
The first outbreak was located beside the river Ebola, in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in 1976. Dr. Petr Piot of Antwerp, Belgium, received ebola blood samples in ice from ebola victims in the DRC by post, in 1976, prompting him to visit some Belgian nuns in charge of a hospital in the DRC where there were no doctors.
In this hospital, caregivers were washing and re-using syringes because they had no health supplies. Dr. Piot named the virus from the river.
The realisation that ebola could be an effective biological weapon ensured that health officials from various nations sought and secured a vaccine. The US, Canada and Russia were engaged in harvesting antibodies from ebola survivors, so that an effective vaccine against this global threat could be created.
Dr. Kobinger, in Ontario, Canada, developed a vaccine for the rare ebola virus using antibodies from survivors of the 1976 ebola outbreak. Perversely, any alteration of the genome may have generated a more virulent ebola subspecies! These countries harboured ebola, in secure locations, along with the related marburg virus, so that they could produce vaccines quickly if necessary.
Ebola Outbreak: Hemorrhagic Infection Spreads
Ebola uses protein spikes to attach to red blood corpuscles. Ebola then enters and kills the cells – producing a hemorrhagic flow from all organs. This flow of blood is highly contagious to another person touching it. Antibodies, when introduced into a person infected with ebola, retracts these proteins so that the ebola virus cannot attach to the cells.
In Monrovia Liberia, ebola victims die at the gates because there are no more beds. In West Africa there is one doctor for every 71,000 patients. The U.S. CDC in Atlanta Georgia is monitoring the ebola outbreak, and recently sent a team to Senegal, West Africa.
Could U.S. involvement spur a global movement to assist in West Africa? The reproduction of ZMAPP requires tobacco plants to reproduce enough implanted ebola antibodies/proteins to generate enough antibodies to generate enough vaccine to control the ebola outbreak. The next batch to treat the West African outbreak will be ready in December 2014. What will the ebola outbreak look like by then?
The 2014 Ebola Outbreak is fully out of Control
Each ebola victim generates at least one other ebola victim. The doubling time for ebola infections is now down to 4 weeks.
Within one month the doubling time will be 7 days. The current number of ebola victims – over 2200 – will double to 4,000 in one month, then to 8,000 and then 16,000 as we reach a 7-day doubling time.
Taking into consideration the addition of more beds, more medical assistance, and the availability of ZMapp to the West African ebola victims, the doubling time may not increase as quickly. With an outpouring of aid from the global community, the ebola outbreak may require 8 weeks to reach a seven-day doubling time.
When we do reach the 7 day critical doubling time, however, it’s a short interval to reach a million victims – this could happen within 12 to 18 weeks from now.
What’s Next for Ebola?
Clearly, integrated international aid, more international volunteers, more hospital beds, and expanded use of treatments such as ZMapp could make a world of difference. What if the aid doesn’t appear? The victim count will continue to increase.