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ADVANCE Discourse: Lab

The Zaire ebolavirus

Published August 6, 2014 2:54 PM by Michael Jones

The Zaire ebolavirus and the increasingly dire situation in West Africa have been all over the news in recent weeks. Airports and hospitals in the United States are on high alert for suspicious cases coming out of the region to prevent the potential spread into a new country. According to a recent Perspective article from the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM), there are five known species of ebolavirus. Each of the African strains vary in severity, with the risk of fatality ranging from 40 percent to 70-90 percent (as is currently the case with the Zaire ebolavirus) in the African strains.

“There is currently no licensed prophylaxis or treatment for any ebolavirus or marburgvirus infection; therefore, treatment is merely supportive,” wrote Heinz Feldmann, MD, in the NEJM article.  

In discussing the treatment of the Zaire ebolavirus, Feldmann pointed out several promising options being considered, including antibody treatment, modulatory RNA, the introduction of a synthetic molecule called BCX4430 and recombinant technology-based vaccines. With no confirmed treatment available yet, however, the primary focus has been on diagnostics for surveillance and confirmatory testing. Antigen detection for more immediate diagnosis, antibody detection for confirmatory results and molecular techniques like reverse-transcriptase-PCR allow health and safety professionals to get control of a potentially dangerous situation quickly. Like many other outbreak scenarios, Feldmann also noted the importance of real-time information sharing for public health.   

 “The latest outbreak of Zaire ebolavirus in West Africa has shown the limited ability of our public health systems to respond to rare, highly virulent communicable diseases,” continued Feldmann in the article. “The medical and public health sectors urgently need to improve education and vigilance.”

The article went on to discuss the importance of rapid diagnostic capabilities, “so that local public health systems do not have to rely on distant reference laboratories.” In order to prepare before the occurrence of any future outbreaks, Feldmann concluded that the need to approve a treatment method is vital to “practice cutting-edge medicine, rather than simply outbreak control.” 

 

posted by Michael Jones

2 comments

I am primarily a virologist, and I think we've been extremely fortunate that neither HIV nor Ebolavirus are casually transmitted in an airborne manner.  With EBV, I would worry about its spread via droplet nuclei that we all remember being discussed with regard to tuberculosis.  I wouldn't feel safe if someone with EBV sneezed on me within 3-5 feet.  Canadian studies showed that swine infected with EBV houses in the same room with monkeys transmitted it to ALL of the latter, which died.  Canadians have done experiments of this kind and you can read about it if you Google "Pathogen Data Safety Sheets" published by the Canadian govt.  It's well-referenced and an excellent source of information about all pathogens, not just viruses.  I pray the virus never mutates to the point where it is readily transmitted by air.  It's also interesting that these deadly diseases originated in West Africa (HIV in Cameroon) where humans and sub-human primates live in close proximity.  Something must be done to stop hunting and consumption of "bush meat".  Herein lies the problem!  Makes you realize fast food isn't all bad!

Linda Pifer, Clin. Lab. Sciences - Professor, Univ. of TN Health Science Center September 21, 2014 3:14 PM
Memphis TN

I’ve discussed the spread of the Zaire ebolavirus before , but as it continues to overwhelm countries

August 29, 2014 1:54 PM

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