Two experts – José Manuel Echeverría and Fernando Simón – talk to us about the existing treatments for Ebola and what the future holds in terms of possible vaccines.
DO WE HAVE AN EBOLA VACCINE?
JOSE MANUEL ECHEVERRIA: Work is currently being done on what seem to be the two most promising possibilities. Forecasts suggest that the necessary clinical trials could be under way during the course of next year so they could at least be used for this emergency situation.
ARE THERE ANY TREATMENTS?
FERNANDO SIMON: The treatment for Ebola consists of providing medical support in order to try and ensure that the physical conditions of the patient are good enough for their own immune system to fight off the disease and develop a way of controlling the infection.
A number of experimental treatments have also been proposed and could have an effect.
IS IT POSSIBLE TO SURVIVE THE VIRUS?
FERNANDO SIMON: The experience we have from all known Ebola epidemics shows that the mortality rate – i.e. the number of people who die following infection – varies from one epidemic to another, from between 90% and 50%.
JOSÉ MANUEL ECHEVARRÍA: The current outbreak in Africa has a mortality rate of a little under 50%.
WHEN IS AN EBOLA PATIENT CURED?
FERNANDO SIMÓN: The outcome usually becomes clear from day 15 or 16. At this point, the patient is either on their way to death or recovery.
JOSÉ MANUEL ECHEVARRÍA: First of all, a patient is cured when they are clinically well. In other words, when their symptoms have disappeared – no fever and all vital signs return to normal. The next step is an absence of detectable virus in their blood. The final step is when no virus can be detected in their bodily fluids.
DOES THE VIRUS DISAPPEAR COMPLETELY?
JOSÉ MANUEL ECHEVARRÍA: Once this period of excretion after recovery has passed, a cured patient is completely free of the virus. Therefore, nobody needs to worry about coming into contact with a patient who has overcome Ebola virus disease.
FERNANDO SIMÓN: A cured patient has immunity to the virus that prevents re-infection, for a long time at least.