The Ebola outbreak that began in December of 2013 and was first announced to the world in March of 2014 has been the largest in history — and its effects are still being felt a year and a half later in West Africa. While initially the disease did spread to a few other countries (including Nigeria, Mali, Senegal, and the U.S.), those outbreaks were quite small and easily contained. Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia, however, have been ravaged by the disease.
As of July 2015, Guinea and Sierra Leone are still wrestling to bring the disease under control; and while Liberia was briefly declared Ebola-free in May of 2015, the disease returned in late June 2015. As of July 1st, 2015, there have been over 27,443 cases of Ebola infection in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone and over 11,207 deaths from the disease since the outbreak began in December 2013. At the peak of its devastation, Ebola had a 70% mortality rate.
What makes Ebola difficult to identify is its similarity to other diseases in West Africa like malaria and other types of hemorrhagic fevers. This disease must be stopped — but the outstanding news is that we’re very close to approving a vaccine that has been wildly successful in the trial stages.
The new vaccine does not contain a live Ebola virus, and yet it has proven to be 100% effective at preventing the disease.
Developed by the Public Health Agency of Canada and licensed to Merck, the vaccine VSV-EBOV has had a 100% success rate so far. Over 4,000 people have been vaccinated in Guinea, and none of them contracted Ebola during the amount of time needed for people to develop immunity (between 6 to 10 days). And, interestingly enough, according to the Washington Post, “the new vaccine contains no live Ebola virus. Instead, it deploys a different virus, one that is alive and replicating, and has been modified to replace one of its genes with a single Ebola virus gene. The result is that the body’s immune system has an Ebola-specific response and is better able to fight off an Ebola infection.”
Scientists are using a “ring” vaccination method — the same method utilized in the ’60s and ’70s to wipe out smallpox. Using this method, people who are around an already infected person are vaccinated, creating a ring of protection so the disease has less chance of spreading.
More research is needed, of course. While the current version of the vaccine has proven its efficacy in the short term, it still remains to be seen how long the protection lasts. Regardless, the results thus far have been staggeringly successful, and hopes are high.
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