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Ebola now closer to home? Also: a look at the real burden of Ebola

EcoHealth Alliance released new research on the Ebola virus in fruit bats in the peer reviewed journal, Emerging Infectious Diseases, a monthly publication by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). EcoHealth Alliance is a nonprofit organisation that focuses on local conservation and global health issues.The study found Ebola virus antibodies circulating in ~4% of the 276 bats scientists screened in Bangladesh.  These results suggest that Rousettus fruit bats are a reservoir for Ebola, or a new Ebola-like virus in South Asia.

The Ebola epidemic has once again proved that much more needs to be done to strengthen health systems  the world over .The last outbreak that tested the health systems of countries was the SARS pandemic. It should be noted though that while the latter was spread over five continents and killed approximately 774 people , the death toll of the current Ebola outbreak has reached almost 10,000  till date in West Africa.  Another fact that should be taken into consideration is that the economic toll of this disease is still unknown and that the disease as an entity is unpredictable.

Recent news reports state that the epidemic may be under control with the caseload falling in the three of the worse hit African countries. It should be noted though that experts are  warning that Ebola outbreaks could flare up again just as quickly as they die down.  Thus,  in Mali  for example , which was declared virus free, the surveillance teams have been asked to stay  vigilant.

Some people who survive Ebola continue to suffer from serious physical and psychological ailments and require care long after the deadly virus has left their bodies. Survivors suffer a wide range of symptoms, including muscle and joint pains, including chronic arthritis, and loss of sight. In addition, they are often traumatised by their experience and face a variety of psychological problems. Young children and pregnant women, who have had very high fatality rates in the epidemic, required special treatment.

The effects of this disease are not only psychological and physical  for its survivors but economical as well. Till date 3600 children have been orphaned by the Ebola outbreak .Schools have just started to open in Liberia and Guinea where precautions such as teachers taking the temperatures of the students and staff members will be implemented.

At the moment there are no viable vaccines against this disease, however countries are becoming desperate. Recently Guinea has authorised the wider use of an experimental drug to treat Ebola in treatment centres after successful initial trials.The experimental Japanese drug – Avigan, or favipiravir – developed by Toyama Chemical, a subsidiary of Japan’s Fujifilm, has been tested by French and Guinean teams in southern Guinea since mid-December. According to the WHO, there are three vaccines  currently in various stages of development. One is produced by GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) and the National Institutes of Health in the US, another is being developed by the Public Health Agency of Canada in collaboration with Merck and the third to enter human testing is made by Johnson and Johnson together with the company Bavarian Nordic. Novavax Inc has begun early-stage human trials of an Ebola vaccine.

There is now a plan to test  the different vaccines to be tested in several trials across the three worst affected countries in the next few months. The trials will start in Liberia with vaccines produced by GSK and Merck. This Liberian trial has three separate parts. Scientists hope to recruit 10,000 people to be given the GSK vaccine, 10,000 to receive the Merck jab and a further 10,000 to get a dummy, placebo vaccine. The success of these trials can help prevent more tragedies at the hands of this disease.

Till date the effects of the Ebola virus have been crippling to the economies of the four worst affected areas and also the world health systems. The real burden of this disease is however is still unknown.

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