Ebola is an awful disease. The worst strains kill about 90 percent of the people who catch it. Hospitals have no useful treatment and it usually shows up first in hospitals with poor facilities, so medical staff often figure prominently in the second wave of cases. Sadly still know not enough about where it comes from. It thus came as a surprise when a terrible outbreak showed up in Equatorial Guinea and Liberia, a long way from its usual home in the Congo. So far one hundred and six have died out of 159 confirmed or suspected cases, but today brings some bits of good news.

First, the epidemic seems to have crested. As long as the Liberian cases do not reach the capitol we might have seen the worst of this outbreak. The death rate is also low for this strain of ebola, with 37 recoveries so far, but a chance of mortality over seventy percent is still not exactly good.

Second, in today’s Nature a research team reports a promising potential drug to fight ebola and similar filoviruses. If it passes human trials this drug, coded BCX4430, will finally subdue a nightmare that has kept a lot of medical experts awake for the last twenty years.

18 replies
  1. 1
    pharniel says:

    Finally ‘5 foot filovirus’ won’t be horrific on it own.

  2. 2
    Bobby Thomson says:

    In the 90s there were a number of cases in Eastern Gabon, which is not far at all from Equatorial Guinea. Basically people eating infected chimpanzees.

  3. 3
    MoeLarryAndJesus says:

    Sadly still know not enough about where it comes from.


  4. 4
    Gindy51 says:

    Not so fast on the good news, folks:
    They have no clue where the heck this is coming from either.

    This from ProMed:
    “There are 11 new cases of Ebola in Guekedou including 3 dead ,” says prefect [mayor] Mohamed Keita.
    Ebola hemorrhagic fever virus began spreading in Guinea since the beginning of the year (January 2014 ), but was only officially announced by the Guinean authorities on [21 Mar 2014], 3 months after the 1st cases in the Forest Region. Very soon, this severe fever — which has no vaccine or drug — reached the Guinean capital. Yet many compatriots do not always believe in the real existence of this virus in Guinea, which has already led to more than 100 dead, officially …”

    While it may have crested in the capitol it is still raging out of control in the forest regions and several neighbor states have closed their borders and some airlines refuse to fly into the country. January 2014 to March 2014, is a LONG time for this stuff to rage around killing people, while some folks are hiding the dead and sick meaning it will spread further.

  5. 5
    J.D. Rhoades says:

    I remember reading the book The Hot Zone a few years ago and being horrified by how awful Ebola is (after some victims expired, they had to go into the room and clean blood off the ceiling. Think about that for a moment). But it also said that, as viruses go, Ebola isn’t that effective at spreading itself because it has such a short incubation period and kills so quickly, an infected person doesn’t have time to infect as many people as, say, influenza. Small favors, I guess.

  6. 6
    Hawes says:

    But remember. Ebola vaccine will cause autism, because science!

    too soon?

  7. 7
    Betty Cracker says:

    @J.D. Rhoades: Off the ceiling? Sweet Jesus.

  8. 8
    Goblue72 says:

    @Hawes: yeah. Way too soon.

  9. 9
    catclub says:

    I just heard about the problems of people who survive it. They are heavily ostracized by their former neighbors. Horrifying, but not surprising.

  10. 10
    Bobby Thomson says:

    Correction: these cases are in Guinea (a western African country), not Equatorial Guinea (a central African country between Cameroon and Gabon).

  11. 11
    Higgs Boson's Mate says:

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but doesn’t an outfit named BioCryst Pharmaceuticals, Inc. claim intellectual property rights to BCX4430? If so, then they seem likely to want to sell it at a profit. It would be sad if the people of those regions most affected by Ebola couldn’t afford the drug that would save their lives.

  12. 12
    liberal says:

    @J.D. Rhoades:

    But it also said that, as viruses go, Ebola isn’t that effective at spreading itself because it has such a short incubation period and kills so quickly, an infected person doesn’t have time to infect as many people as, say, influenza.

    That’s my recollection, too.

  13. 13
    🌷 Martin says:

    @Higgs Boson’s Mate: Why don’t they just borrow $20,000 from their parents and start a business so they could afford the drugs. Sounds like they aren’t trying very hard and are just lazy, sitting around the house bleeding out their eyes instead of out being enterprising.

  14. 14
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    @🌷 Martin: That, or sell some of their wedding gift stock.

  15. 15
    🌷 Martin says:

    @liberal: Yeah, really scary viruses have long incubation periods (time from infection to symptoms), short latent periods (time from infection to infectiousness). Basically, the patient can spread the disease for some period before they know they have the disease. If the incubation period is short, there’s no real time for transmission to take place. If the latent period is long, again there’s no real time for transmission to take place. And high mortality rates work against the disease because transmission ends when the patient dies.

    The flu (depending on strain) has an incubation period of a few days and tends to be infectious about a day or two before symptoms develop. That’s why it spreads fairly easily – people don’t know they have the flu while they’re spreading it and they often don’t know they were exposed to the flu because the person they got it from had no symptoms.

    Ebola has an incubation period that is up to 3 weeks long, but it’s latency is almost non-existant. You can transmit the disease almost as soon as you get it. The saving grace for ebola is that its not airborne transmission but direct contact. That means that family members and healthcare workers that have a lot of direct contact are highly likely to contract it, but outside of those groups it is unlikely to spread. My understanding is that the healthcare workers are the primary conduit for transmission. They get it, don’t realize it, treat other patients, who transmit it to other family members/healthcare workers, etc. So the incubation period isn’t what is protecting us (and it’s the latency period that actually matters), but the need for direct contact. It’s more like AIDS in that regard.

    If ebola mutated into being able to be transmitted through the air (doesn’t seem possible from how I understand that it works) it would utterly catastrophic globally.

  16. 16
    🌷 Martin says:

    I should further clarify…

    There’s three time periods that matter:

    1) Incubation: time from acquiring the disease to first symptoms
    2) Latency: time from acquiring the disease to start of communicability
    3) Communicability: time that you can pass on the disease

    Most diseases incubation and latency are similar in duration. And communicability can end before or after symptoms do. Chicken pox is well known for only being communicable for a day or two before symptoms until while blisters are active, but once blisters are no longer active, it is no longer communicable, though other symptoms may last a few days longer. Ebola is one where communicability can last even after the patient has died by coming into blood contact. How infectious we consider these diseases really depends a lot on the size of the overlaps between these periods and the means by which it can spread (airborne, contact, etc) If something becomes infectious once symptoms begin, it can usually be easily contained through education and policy. Its the ‘not knowing’ part that causes diseases to blow up on us.

  17. 17
    Anna in PDX says:

    @J.D. Rhoades: That to me is the scariest book ever written. Ebola and Marburg and other filoviruses are absolutely horrifying. It is true that the outbreaks are so virulent that they are usually short-lived, though.

  18. 18
    Quicksand says:

    @Anna in PDX: Totally agree. I read that book years ago, and I still remember having to put the book down a few times to walk away and take some deep breaths.

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