Not as contagious as other viruses such as influenza, colds or measles, spreads to others by contact via bodily fluids or with the skin of an infected animal such as a chimp, monkey or fruit bat. It then will move from person to person in the same manner. Anyone who cares for a sick person or buries someone who has died from Ebola many times get it themselves.
Ebola can seem just like the flu or other illnesses in its early stages. Its symptoms will turn up between 2 to 21 days after the infection and will usually include:
- A headache
- A high fever
- A sore throat
- Loss of appetite
- Pain in stomach
- Achy muscles and joints
As it progresses and worsens, the disease will cause internal bleeding, plus bleeding from the ears, eyes and nose. Some will experience coughing up or vomiting blood, a rash and bloody diarrhea.
Is There Treatment for Ebola?
There is no known or proven treatment for . Treating the symptoms as they occur and supportive care are still the typical treatments that the disease is limited to. These include:
- Keeping the patient’s blood pressure and oxygen status maintained
- Keeping their electrolytes and fluids balanced
- Treating any complicated infections as they arise
It is important to treat Ebola HF in a timely fashion, however this can be challenging since it is so difficult to diagnose the disease clinically in its early infection stages. Since the early symptoms like a headache or fever are so nonspecific to the Ebola virus, many cases of this disease can be initially misdiagnosed.
If the patient does however have the early symptoms of Ebola HF and there is reason to believe that this disease could be the cause, the patient needs to be isolated and professionals in public health need to be notified. Until samples from the infected patient are taken and tested to confirm the infection, any supportive therapy can continue as long as the proper protective clothing is worn.
There have been some experimental treatments that were tested and proven to be effective on animals, but these haven’t yet been used for humans.
What About Experimental Drugs and Vaccines for Ebola?
Q. What is the experimental treatment known as ZMapp?
A. This is under development by Mapp Biopharmaceutical Inc., and it is a treatment which is experimental for those who have been infected with the Ebola virus. So far it hasn’t been tested yet on humans for its effectiveness or safety. It is a combination of three monoclonal antibodies which bind to the protein of the Ebola virus.
Q. Is this experimental treatment effective?
A. The best way to learn if treatment with the product is effective, however, is to conduct a controlled clinical trial that is randomize in people to look at the outcomes of the patients who get the treatment compared to untreated patients. None of these studies have yet been conducted. It is important to remember that Ebola’s standard treatment is still supportive therapy.
Plus, to stop the current outbreak in Ebola in West Africa, the best way is very careful work in finding the cases of the disease, then isolating and caring for these patients and tracing them back to the contacts so the chains of transmission can stop. This means people being educated about safe practices of burial and health care workers having to strictly follow infection control in the hospitals. In the past, this is how all outbreaks of Ebola have been stopped.
Q. Why isn’t ZMapp being given to more people?
A. The maker of this experimental treatment is still researching and evaluating the safety and effectiveness of the product.
Q. Did the NIH help get the experimental therapy to the two patients in Liberia from the U.S.?
A. The experimental treatment was privately set up by Samaritan’s Purse, a private humanitarian organization that employed one of the Americans who caught Ebola in Liberia. They then contacted the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC, who in turn referred them to the National Institutes of Health, or NIH. It was NIH who provided the organization with the right contacts at the private company who are making this treatment. They were not involved with getting, transporting, approving or giving out the treatments.
Q. Will anyone in West Africa be able to get this experimental treatment? How much is available?
A. The maker states that there is a very limited supply so it is not available for general use and can’t be purchased. They plan for phase 1 clinical trials and don’t have the capacity to make large quantities of this treatment. They are continuing to evaluate and research the effectiveness and safety of the product.
Q. Under the Food and Drug Administration’s extended access to investigational drugs, is ZMapp Available?
A. The FDA can authorize access to products which are potentially promising before the drug is approved in other ways, like an emergency Investigation New Drug, or IND, application. For this to be administered in the U.S. this type of request has to be made to and authorized by the FDA. It can’t comment on any specifics of the ongoing programs for drug development and they can’t reveal information which isn’t already public that concerns submissions covering programs like IND applications submission. The FDSA is ready to work with investigators and companies who are treating these patients.
Q. Is there a vaccine?
A. No, ZMapp is being created as a product that is a therapeutic treating for anyone infected with Ebola, but not something which will prevent the infection.
Q. How do you know the difference between a vaccine and therapy?
A. Usually, a vaccine is given to someone prior to being exposed to bacteria or a virus which could cause a disease. Vaccines stimulate your immune system so it will make antibodies and a cellular immunity which can fight off an infection if it did happen. Usually, therapeutics are given to someone who is infected already with a virus. The human immune system can clear the Ebola virus with the ZMapp treatment since the monoclonal antibodies bind to the virus itself.
Q. Are any vaccines for Ebola in development or use?
A. Currently, there are no vaccines approved by the FDA for Ebola. There is work being done to develop one, however by the NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. NIH said recently that they are speeding up their work, and planning to aim their phase 1 clinical trials of the vaccine in the fall. They also support the Crucell biopharmaceutical company and their development of a Marburg/Ebola vaccine, plus Profectus Biosciences in their development of a vaccine for Ebola. The Thomas Jefferson University and the NIH also are working together to make a candidate Ebola vaccine that is based on the already existing vaccine for rabies.
Q. Does the U.S. government have an involvement in the development of ZMapp?
A. Yes, the U.S. government, the NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases have specifically supported the development of this experimental treatment, as has the department of Defense’s Defense Threat Reduction Agency, or DTRA, and the HHS’ Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, or BARDA.
Q. Are there any other companies who are developing any vaccines or experimental treatments?
A. There are two other companies, Biocryst Pharmaceuticals and Tekmira, who are getting funding from the Department of Defense’s DTRA, and have therapeutic candidates for Ebola in its early stages. The Department of Defense is also working with Newlink to make a vaccine candidate for Ebola. With support from NIH, BioCryst is working to make an antiviral drug to treat the virus that is expected to go through the first stage of testing later in the year.