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Sunday 21 September 2014

Blood of Ebola survivors may be used to treat victims

Rosa Prince

Published 20/08/2014 | 02:30

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Health inspection officers help a mock patient (C) get into a negative pressure isolation stretcher, during a drill to demonstrate the procedures of transporting an Ebola victim, at Shenzhen Entry-exit Inspection and Quarantine Bureau, in Shenzhen, Guangdong province. Reuters
Health inspection officers help a mock patient (C) get into a negative pressure isolation stretcher, during a drill to demonstrate the procedures of transporting an Ebola victim, at Shenzhen Entry-exit Inspection and Quarantine Bureau, in Shenzhen, Guangdong province. Reuters

Patients suffering from the deadly Ebola virus may be treated with blood taken from survivors of the disease, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has suggested.

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Global health officials are examining whether the natural immunity built up in those who have beaten Ebola can be transferred to fellow sufferers via infusions of their plasma. Six out of 10 Ebola victims infected during the current outbreak have succumbed to the disease so far, with WHO announcing that the official death toll in West Africa, where the outbreak is centred, has reached 1,229.

Now doctors are considering taking blood from the minority of patients who have survived the disease to see whether they could be suitable for plasma donation. In the small number of cases in which transfusions have been tried, the results appear promising, doctors say, with antibodies found in the plasma of survivors apparently helping to fight off the disease.

Using blood products rather than expensive drug cures would be far more cost-effective and therefore more obtainable for the largely-impoverished West African nations at the heart of the outbreak. In an interview with Bloomberg, David Wood, who is leading a WHO team of doctors looking into the possibility of using the blood of survivors to help victims, said: "It's feasible. We're consulting with the blood operators who have capability to assist, so that we can get some realistic sense of when this could be available as an option. We'll have that information pretty soon." Doctors say Ebola survivors have antibodies in their plasma created by their white blood cells as they fought off the foreign invader.

These bind to the invader microbes, either killing them off or identifying them for other parts of the immune system to attack.

Dr Kent Brantly, an American missionary who contracted Ebola while helping to treat patients in Liberia, is known to have been given a transfusion of plasma from a 14-year-old boy. His condition has improved dramatically, although it is not clear whether this was the result of the transfusion or an experimental drug called which he had also taken.

It is possible too, doctors said, that his body would have fought off the virus even without treatment. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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