Fears of US Ebola Outbreak Spread as Experimental Serum Shows Promise

New York man who showed symptoms of virus deemed unlikely to have Ebola.

While Ebola hemorrhagic fever continues to leave a trail of death in West Africa amid heightened concerns in the United States, an experimental treatment has shown promising results in fighting the virus.

Despite the fact that the risk of an Ebola outbreak in the United States is extremely limited, fears were raised on Sunday, when a New York City man who had recently traveled to West Africa arrived at Mount Sinai Hospital with a high fever and gastrointestinal issues. The New York City Health Department, however, released a statement on Monday that concluded the patient was not likely to have the Ebola virus.

"After consultation with CDC and Mount Sinai, the Health Department has concluded that the patient is unlikely to have Ebola,” the statement read. “Specimens are being tested for common causes of illness and to definitively exclude Ebola."

The incident followed on the heels of 2 other reports of possible infections in New York City, where patients were isolated after exhibiting Ebola-like symptoms. In both cases, however, the Ebola virus was quickly ruled out, according to the New York Times.

The incubation period for the disease—which, in most cases, has a mortality rate of 60% to 90%—ranges from 2 to 21 days, and the most common symptoms include fever, headache, vomiting, diarrhea, joint and muscle pain, and weakness. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), Ebola can only be transmitted through mucous membranes or an area of broken skin that comes into contact with the bodily fluids of an infected person or materials contaminated with body fluids.

While the specter of the virus is causing fear to spread throughout the United States, the threat is very real in the West African nations of Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Nigeria.

Consequently, the CDC issued a Level 3 travel warning on July 31, 2014, for nonessential travel to the West African nations. On Monday, the CDC reported a total of 1603 suspected and confirmed Ebola cases, with a suspected death count of 887.

“This is the biggest and most complex Ebola outbreak in history. Far too many lives have been lost already,” CDC Director Tom Frieden, MD, MPH, said in a press release. “It will take many months, and it won’t be easy, but Ebola can be stopped. We know what needs to be done. CDC is surging our response, sending 50 additional disease control experts to the region in the next 30 days.”

As the outbreak rages in West Africa, the limited market for an Ebola vaccine has left research and development efforts up to smaller companies. Two treatments currently in development have shown promise in fighting Ebola, but they have yet to be tested in human subjects.

Meanwhile, an experimental serum may have helped save the lives of 2 American missionaries who contracted Ebola during relief efforts in Liberia. Dr. Kent Brantly and Nancy Writebol, who had been aiding infected patients through Samaritan’s Purse, a Christian humanitarian group, were deteriorating rapidly from Ebola before an unproven treatment developed by San Diego-based Mapp Biopharmaceutical, Inc, was permitted to be administered in the pair.

After being treated with a limited amount of the drug, called ZMapp, both Dr. Brantly and Writebol showed signs of improvement. Dr. Brantly arrived for further treatment in the isolation unit at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta on Saturday, and Writebol is due to arrive there today.

“We thank God that they are alive and now have access to the best care in the world,” Franklin Graham, President of Samaritan’s Purse, said in a press release. “We are extremely thankful for the help we have received from the State Department, the CDC, the NIH, WHO, and, of course, Emory Hospital.”

Manufactured using tobacco plants, ZMapp was developed from precursor drug, MB-003. During a trial conducted by researchers at the US Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases that was published in the August 2013 issue of Science Transitional Medicine, MB-003 protected 100% of non-human primates when it was given 1 hour following exposure to Ebola.

When the primates were treated 48 hours after exposure, two-thirds of them were protected from the virus.

“By requiring both a documentable fever and a positive diagnostic assay result for Ebola infection before initiating treatment in these animals, we were able to use MB-003 as a true therapeutic countermeasure,” senior author Gene Olinger, PhD, said in a press release. “These initial results push the threshold of MB-003 from post-exposure prophylaxis to treating verified illness.”

With limited quantities of ZMapp available, the manufacturer told the Washington Post it was “cooperating with appropriate government agencies to increase production as quickly as possible.”


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