SciBar returns to the VAT & Fiddle and this month it’s Jonathan Ball talking about the virus du jour; Ebola. The title of the talk was, “Exposing Global Health Inequalities” so we knew that we’d be getting more than a brief review of the recent outbreak in Western Africa.
But first we get a history lesson. The first ever case of Ebola was discovered in Zaire in 1976. It was named after a local river rather than the village where it was discovered in order to protect its reputation. Before 2014, there had been fewer than 1,000 cases.
However, in the recent outbreak, there have been 24,872 cases resulting in 10,311 deaths (official figures produced the day of SciBar) Patient Zero was a two year old child in a village in Guinea. Within four months, there were 14 graves in the village, filled with Ebola victims.
Ebola is a filovirus and there are five species, four seen in Africa and one in South East Asia. These species range from the non-pathogenic Reston to the highly pathogenic Zaire. The virus naturally circulates in fruit bats and is also responsible for a massive die off of great apes in Africa.
There is an incubation period of around a week before symptoms begin to show and then it become contagious. Then victims tend to die between six and sixteen days after the symptoms begin to show.
The virus infects a monocyte and causes it to produce too much cytokine. This eventually leads to a massive lose of blood and fluid. The victim is then dehydrated and this can lead to organ failure. For reasons unknown, a victim having hiccups is a predictor of an impending death.
When the outbreak occurred in Western Africa, there was some discussion around how to deal with it. Would the tried and tested methods or prevention and control be employed or would some new, experimental drugs be used instead. As it stands, it’s been the tried and tested techniques that have been responsible for preventing the spread of Ebola.
However, some new treatments have also been developed. For example Zmapp, which was used on one of the Ebola patients that was brought back to the UK. To create it, they infect a mouse and then is converted for humans. Currently, they are looking at growing the vaccine inside a tobacco plant to reduce costs (by up to 10 times) Zmapp seems to be effective even after symptoms are showing.