Thursday 25 December 2014

Untested drugs might be the only answer to Ebola virus

Published 15/08/2014 | 02:30

A doctor for tropical medicine and a nurse demonstrate the decontamination procedure as part of ebola treatment
A doctor for tropical medicine and a nurse demonstrate the decontamination procedure as part of ebola treatment
Health workers loading Ebola patient, Spanish priest Miguel Pajares, into an ambulance. Fr Pajares died yesterday. AP

Experimental drugs are being seriously looked at as part of desperate bids to try halt the Ebola epidemic.

The move comes as officials put the death toll from the virus above 1,000 and fears grow that it could spread to Europe and the US.

Doctors from across the globe met earlier this week to discuss the possibility of using untested drugs on patients.

Already some trial drugs have been given to two Americans and a Spanish priest, but countries including Nigeria and Liberia are now looking for supplies of the medicine called ZMapp.

The Americans are said to be improving but it is not known if this is related to the drugs or not.

However, the priest, who became the first person in Europe to be treated for Ebola died in hospital on Tuesday. Miguel Pajares (75) passed away less than 48 hours after doctors began to treat him with ZMapp.

It is manufactured by San Diego based Mapp Biopharmaceutical Inc., which said it has complied with every request for the drug and was providing it free of charge.

However, ZMapp has not been tested for safety or effectiveness in humans.

"It is our understanding that all patients offered treatment, treated, or expected to be treated were or are highly capable of providing informed consent for the use of an experimental drug not yet evaluated for safety in animals or people," the company said.

Officials from the World Health Organisation have declared the current outbreak a global public health emergency.

However, there is no definitive agreement on the merits of using drugs which have not undergoing the full riggers of clinical trials. There is no known cure for Ebola.

"Is it ethical to use unregistered medicines to treat people, and if so, what criteria should they meet, and what conditions, and who should be treated?" said WHO assistant director-general Marie-Paule Kieny.

Nigeria is the latest country to be hit with the virus, with Lagos confirming 10 cases.

Two patients have died in the country including Patrick Sawyer, a Liberian who has generated local anger for bringing the virus in through Lagos airport.

In the US, three church workers - including the husband of a missionary being treated for Ebola in Atlanta - have been quarantined in North Carolina after returning from West Africa.

A German student with Ebola-like symptoms has been quarantined in Rwanda.

In Ireland the HSE has said that hospitals are prepared to deal with a case should one emerge.

It is now believed that a toddler who died in a Guinea border town just before Christmas last year was the "patient zero" who sparked the Ebola crisis.

The two-year-old boy was from Guéckédou, a jungle village which lies on the country's border with Liberia and Sierra Leone, and was reportedly declared the first case of the current outbreak by investigators.

Irish Independent

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