TIME ebola

There Are 53 Drugs That Could Treat Ebola

University of Utah Researchers Work Toward Cure For Ebola Strains
A container holds a Peptide that contains a potential new drug candidates for testing against a part of Ebola that is vulnerable to drugs, at the University of Utah on Oct. 14, 2014 in Salt Lake City. George Frey—Getty Images

New research raises prospect of treatments to be found in already available drugs

Scientists have identified 53 existing drugs that could be effective in fighting Ebola, according to newly published research.

There is currently no vaccine or drug available to treat the disease, which is one of the primary reasons the virus has been able to infect 18,603 people so far, and kill 6,915. A vaccine is undergoing clinical trials in humans, but a drug to treat people who already have the disease is critically needed. The experimental drug ZMapp has been used on a handful of Ebola patients, but resources of it are exhausted and it has not undergone adequate testing.

Running against the clock, some groups of scientists have decided that one of the most efficient ways to go about tackling the task of developing and distributing an Ebola drug is by screening drug compounds already available to see if any of those compounds could be used to create an effective drug.

MORE: Scientists Explore 10,000 Compounds for an Ebola Drug

In a new study published in the Nature Press journal Emerging Microbes and Infections, researchers at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) said they’ve identified 53 promising drug compounds. The team used high speed technology to scan through a library of 2,816 U.S. Food and Drug Administration-approved compounds already used for other ailments. Their method, which uses a virus-like particle that contained Ebola proteins, was calibrated to identify drugs that could prevent Ebola from infecting human cells by 50%.

Among these 53 promising compounds are ones used in cancer drugs, antihistamines, antibiotics, and antidepressants.

The compounds will be tested in animals to see what effects they have on Ebola, as well as their side effects. If a drug is proven both safe and effective, the government may use it in Ebola zones.

As TIME reported in October, scientists at Emory University Hospital are taking a similar approach to their library of 10,000 drug compounds. They think it’s possible Ebola could be treated similarly to the the treatments they’ve developed for viruses like HIV and Hepatitis C.

TIME ebola

U.N.: Ebola Outbreak Will Take Several More Months to Contain

Liberia Ebola Missed Goals
Health workers wearing Ebola protective gear spray the shrouded body of a suspected Ebola victim with disinfectant at an Ebola treatment center at Tubmanburg, on the outskirts of Monrovia, Liberia, on Nov. 28, 2014 Abbas Dulleh—AP

The U.N. goal of containing 100% of Ebola cases by Jan. 1 will not be met

The U.N.’s special envoy on Ebola said Thursday that it would be several months before the outbreak in West Africa is under control.

Dr. David Nabarro said international governments as well as local communities had taken a “massive shift” in responding to the crisis over the past four month, the Associated Press reports.

However, he noted that more needed to be done to contain the spread of the disease in western Sierra Leone and northern Mali.

“It’s going to take, I’m afraid, several more months before we can truly declare that the outbreak is coming under control,” Nabarro said.

The World Health Organization aimed to have 100% of cases isolated by Jan. 1, but acknowledges that previous targets have not been met.

[AP]

TIME ebola

How Effective Is Screening for Ebola at Airports?

New York's JFK Airport Begins Screening Passengers For Ebola Virus
A plane arrives at New York's John F. Kennedy Airport (JFK) airport on October 11, 2014 in New York City. Spencer Platt—Getty Images

Since August, 80,000 passengers have been screened for Ebola at various airports around the world. Here’s what health officials found

As the Ebola outbreak in West Africa escalated over the summer, the World Health Organization recommended airport screening as a way to contain spread of the disease. WHO advised that all people leaving the most severely affected countries—Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone—should have their temperatures taken and be asked about any Ebola-related symptoms they might have, including fever, headaches, vomiting and diarrhea.

Since the program began in August, more than 80,000 passengers have been screened as they left these countries, 12,000 of them headed for the U.S. Do the screenings work? In a report published in the MMWR, officials at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control reveal the latest information from the program.

Anyone with a fever or other symptoms—or who reported having a high risk of being exposed to Ebola, such as having contact with Ebola patients—was not allowed to fly. According to the CDC report, none of those who were denied boarding were diagnosed with Ebola. But two patients without symptoms when they left West Africa, Thomas Eric Duncan and Dr. Craig Spencer, eventually developed Ebola after arriving in the U.S.

The MMWR report also details the U.S.’s more stringent airport entry screening for all passengers arriving from the three affected countries. Beginning Oct. 11, all passengers coming to the U.S. from these countries were required to fly into one of five airports: John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York, Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey, Washington-Dulles International Airport, Chicago O’Hare International Airport or Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. They are also required to take their temperatures for 21 days, the incubation period for the Ebola virus, and report them to local health officials. The designated airports are equipped with trained public health personnel who meet passengers and provide them with a kit to help them record their temperatures, as well as educate them about who to call if they develop symptoms.

From Oct. 11 to Nov. 10, 1, 993 passengers were screened this way, and 4.3% were referred to the CDC for additional evaluation. Seven people had symptoms and were referred to proper medical personnel, but none developed Ebola. “Using these processes to educate each traveler and then link the traveler to public health authorities for the duration of the incubation period is of critical importance to facilitate rapid detection of illness and implementation of appropriate public health control measures,” the authors write.

But the most effective way to prevent the epidemic from spreading is to control it at its source. In a separate MMWR report, researchers at the CDC say that their first assessment of Ebola infection and control in Sierra Leone reveals many gaps. In a review of six of the 14 districts in Sierra Leone that are affected by Ebola, the CDC Ebola Response Team found that none had a dedicated infection control supervisor to oversee training and implementation of infection control procedures, such as wearing protective equipment and isolating patients. There were also no national, district or facility standards for infection control, and screening of patients for Ebola was inadequate. All districts also lacked sufficient personal protective equipment, the gear that is critical for protecting health care workers treating Ebola patients, and many did not have running water, enough chlorine bleach to sanitize contaminated objects, or incinerators for burning disposable medical waste.

“An increasingly coordinated and comprehensive [infection and prevention control] program with district and health facility level support is urgently needed to prevent Ebola in districts where the prevalence is low and to strengthen the existing…response in areas with high prevalence of Ebola,” the CDC officials write.

TIME ebola

Sierra Leone Has Overtaken Liberia in Ebola

A burial team extracts the body of Isatu Sesay, 16, an Ebola victim, from her home in Kissi Town, Sierra Leone.
A burial team extracts the body of Isatu Sesay, 16, an Ebola victim, from her home in Kissi Town, Sierra Leone, Nov. 22, 2014. Daniel Berehulak—The New York Times/Redux

It now has more cases than anywhere in the world

Sierra Leone has the highest number of Ebola cases of any country, according to the most recent World Health Organization statistics.

Sierra Leone has seen 7,780 cases of Ebola, more than the 7,719 cases in Liberia, WHO figures published on Monday show. Some 17,800 people have fallen ill with virus in those two countries and in Guinea, 6,187 of whom have died.

In the WHO’s latest situation report, published last week, the group said its goal of safely burying 70 % of Ebola victims and isolating 70 % of Ebola patients had been met in “most districts” of the three hardest-hit West African countries. The WHO cited Liberia as a bright point in the global effort to contain the disease, reporting that case incidence was “stable or declining” in the struggling nation, where 3,177 people have died from the disease.

Yet the WHO said that transmission of the virus was still “intense” in Sierra Leone, which at the beginning of the month reported more than 500 new cases over a period of just days.

TIME ebola

The First Attempt to Digitize Ebola Health Records

Ebola treatment in West Africa is going digital

Keeping detailed patient records during the Ebola outbreak can be a nightmare.

Currently, health care workers use very basic methods, ranging from scanning files to writing on white boards to calling results across rooms to simple memorization. But the International Rescue Committee (IRC), a crisis organization, is about to change that by bringing in electronic health records to its new Ebola treatment unit opening the week of Dec. 15 in Monrovia, Liberia.

“There’s a rule in medicine that if it’s not written down, you didn’t do it,” says Dr. Wilson Wang, a senior clinical advisor for IRC’s Ebola response. Wang says the new electronic health record system can be used for health care accountability and to record decisions made, as well as those decisions’ outcome. IRC’s new system can be accessed via waterproof Sony tablets that can be brought into high-risk zones. The devices will still destroyed when the unit is no longer needed, but the actual data will not be lost. The system was developed by IRC’s own technology team with the help of health software company Vecna.

Some of the patient data will be handed over to the Liberian Ministry of Health to aid in contact tracing, but IRC says other data that doesn’t identify patients will be shared publicly in some capacity. That data could consist of what specific Ebola treatments are being provided, how many patients are seen in the unit, what percentage of patients test positive or negative for the virus, how many people survived, and among those who didn’t, where did they go? In the future, this may aid in other outbreaks, and help scientists and researchers understand what went right and wrong in the current outbreak.

“We want to share [the system],” says Wang. “We plan to essentially give it away, but we want to demonstrate that it works.”

It will also enable physician support. Currently, doctors treating Ebola rely on their own experiences and what’s reported to be successful in the past to determine how to treat a person, but Wang says there’s not a single place doctors can go to get the most up to date data on what’s working in the current outbreak. The new system could make it easier for doctors to get directions on how much medication they should provide, for instance, or what to do when someone has a seizure. “When providers are under stress, and even when they’re not, they make mistakes. They’re human,” says Wang. It’s his hope that this technology could help doctors avoid some of those mistakes by giving them a resource to turn to.

IRC has been in West Africa for over two decades often helping hospitals with infrastructure. When the current outbreak is contained, IRC says it plans to find a way to use the system to help rebuild the currently devastated health system in Liberia—even if it’s just to aid in administrative tasks. “Hospitals need a system to manage this type of data and place orders [for resources and drugs],” says Wang. “[Right now] it’s sort of like coming up with a grocery list for a party when you don’t know what people are going to eat.”

In the meantime, IRC plans to roll out the system in its own unit in mid-December, and plans to continue to refine the platform as they go.

“We think this has the potential to really change not only how quality and safety is addressed in an Ebola situation, but it can also be adapted to any health care situation,” says Wang.

TIME ebola

Obama Renews Calls for a $6 Billion Ebola Fund

U.S. President Obama talks about Ebola at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda
U.S. President Barack Obama talks about Ebola during his visit to the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland on December 2, 2014. Larry Downing — Reuters

He wants Congress to approve the aid package before the holiday recess

U.S. President Barack Obama renewed calls Tuesday for Congress to approve more than $6 billion in emergency funding to help tackle the Ebola outbreak in West Africa.

The President issued the fresh plea during a visit to the U.S. National Institutes of Health in Maryland, where he praised researchers and scientists working on an experimental Ebola vaccine that has shown promising results during initial rounds of testing.

“If we want other countries to keep stepping up, we will have to continue to lead the way,” said Obama. “And that’s why I’m calling on Congress to approve our emergency funding request to fight this disease before they leave for the holidays.”

The President’s appeal comes as Doctors Without Borders sharply criticized the international community’s slow, uneven response to the Ebola outbreak.

Globally over 17,000 people have contracted the highly contagious virus, which has resulted in the deaths of more than 6,000.

TIME ebola

Doctors Without Borders: Ebola Response Still Too ‘Slow and Uneven’

Most of the responsibility is still on nurses, doctors and charity workers, MSF says

Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), the medical aid organization that originally rang the international alarm about Ebola in West Africa, says once again the response to the outbreak is too slow.

“The international response to the Ebola crisis in West Africa has been slow and uneven leaving local people, national governments and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to do most of the practical, hands-on work,” the organization says in a statement.

Three months ago, MSF called for states with biological disaster response capacities to dispatch resources, including people and equipment, to the region. But MSF says that while the financing of facilities by outside countries is appreciated, it still leaves the bulk of the work to individuals that largely lack what they call “required expertise.”

MSF has been training other NGO and local health workers, a task that hasn’t been their responsibility in the past. MSF says the process takes weeks, and it’s creating a bottleneck that’s causing delays in care.

MORE: Meet America’s Top Ebola Doctor

The international response has been the target of prior criticisms, which say it hasn’t been nimble enough to handle the evolution of the virus. In Monrovia, the capital of Liberia, cases are slowing, and now treatment facilities are needed in more rural areas, but construction is still focusing on the capital. “Across the region, there remains a lack of adequate facilities for isolating and diagnosing patients where they are needed most. In rural areas of Liberia with active chains of transmission, there are no transport facilities for laboratory samples,” reads the MSF statement. “In Sierra Leone, scores of callers reporting suspected cases to the national Ebola hotline are told to isolate people at home.”

MSF says education and awareness campaigns are also dropping off, especially in places like Guinea. “We can’t let our guard down and allow this to become double failure, a response that was slow to begin with and is ill-adapted in the end,” says MSF’s international president Dr. Joanne Liu.

The organization, which was largely ignored in March when they warned the outbreak would become out of control, is still operating in Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Mali.

TIME ebola

Ebola Cases in Sierra Leone Will ‘Soon Eclipse’ Liberia

Members of the burial team carry a body to his grave at King Tom Cemetery in Freetown, Sierra Leone, on Nov. 19, 2014.
Members of the burial team carry a body to his grave at King Tom Cemetery in Freetown, Sierra Leone, on Nov. 19, 2014. The Washington Post/Getty Images

1,339 cases of the country's 6,599 overall were recorded in three weeks in November

Sierra Leone will “soon” dethrone Liberia as the hardest-hit country in West Africa’s Ebola outbreak, the World Health Organization cautioned Wednesday.

Nearly one-fifth of Sierra Leone’s total cases of Ebola were reported in a three-week period that ended Sunday, according to new figures released by the global health agency. WHO reports that 1,339 of the country’s 6,599 known cases (including 1,398 deaths) were reported in the 21 days prior to Nov. 23.

Six hundred cases were reported throughout the three most-affected countries overall in the past week.

Transmission remains “intense” in Sierra Leone, the assessment states, mostly due to heavy transmission in the western and northern regions. That’s in contrast with Guinea, where more than 2,100 cases (including 1,260 deaths) have been reported, and in Liberia, which is currently the worst-hit, with 3,016 of its 7,168 cases having proven fatal.

The uptick comes after the United Nations recently announced it will not reach its goal of Ebola containment in the three most-impacted nations by Dec. 1.

The U.N. Mission for Ebola Emergency Response (UNMEER) has deployed personnel and resources to West Africa to control the outbreak. Some experts say more mobile treatment facilities are needed instead of large 100+ bed facilities, since many of the countries’ outbreaks are popping up in regions that are more spread out and hard to reach.

In Sierra Leone, however, the capital of Freetown remains the worst-affected area. Overall, more than 15,935 people have contracted the virus, resulting in at least 5,689 deaths.

TIME ebola

U.S. to Grant Temporary Protection Status for People From Ebola-Hit Nations in West Africa

Liberia Battles Spreading Ebola Epidemic
A mother and child stand atop their mattresses in a classroom now used as Ebola isolation ward on Aug. 15, 2014, in Monrovia, Liberia John Moore—Getty Images

People from Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone who were in the U.S. as of Thursday

The United States will issue a temporary protected status to people residing in the country from the three nations hit hardest by the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, homeland security officials said in a report Thursday.

Reuters reports that people from Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone who were in the U.S. as of Thursday would be eligible for deportation protection for at least 18 months and could also apply for work permits. The 8,000 people estimated to be eligible will be unable to visit home and return in a bid to prevent more Ebola cases arriving in the U.S.

Any extension of the protection will be reassessed after 18 months based on how severe the Ebola outbreak remains in West Africa, the report adds. More than 5,000 people have died from the virus in the worst outbreak in recorded history, the World Health Organization reports.

Read more at Reuters

TIME ebola

Cost of Ebola for West Africa Far Lower Than Once Feared

Financial toll for hardest-hit region could fall between $3 billion and $4 billion, or about one-tenth of what the World Bank initially forecast. In its latest report on the global Ebola epidemic, WHO counted 5,177 deaths out of 14,413 reported cases of the disease

An aggressive response to the Ebola epidemic in West Africa has reduced a massive $32.6 billion economic tab initially forecast by the World Bank, a top official at the organization said Wednesday.

Francisco Ferreira, the World Bank’s chief economist, said at a lecture in Johannesburg that the outbreak’s total financial toll in the region could fall between $3 billion and $4 billion, according to Reuters. Ferreira pointed to successful efforts to contain the disease in some West African countries as a sign that the World Bank’s worst-case scenario is unlikely. But, he also warned that Ebola could still spread if those efforts are not maintained.

“It has not gone to zero because a great level of preparedness and focus is still needed,” Ferreira said, according to Reuters.

In its latest report on the global Ebola epidemic, the World Health Organization counted 5,177 deaths out of 14,413 reported cases of the disease. Liberia has seen the most deaths by far, at greater than 2,800, followed by Sierra Leone and Guinea at more than 1,000 each. The United States has had four reported cases of the disease and one confirmed death.

This year’s outbreak has affected businesses in West Africa and worldwide. A number of airline stocks dipped last month following reports that a potentially-infected woman had flown from Cleveland to Dallas on Frontier Airlines. Meanwhile, the stock market in general suffered in October, in part due to investor concerns over the spread of the disease.

This article originally appeared on Fortune.com

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