The current Ebola crisis is the worst outbreak of the disease in its 40-year history. The World Health Organisation’s latest figures say it has killed 932 of the 1,711 people infected in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone.
These countries have announced drastic measures to contain the epidemic including closing schools and quarantining the homes of those infected but the sanitary infrastructure is weak or lacking entirely, and many people fear the doctors and their treatments.
Euronews spoke to the head of the NRC Louis Pasteur in Lyon, France, Sylvain Baize.
“If the populations accept to go into hospital when they fall ill, if they accept us coming to their homes and taking sick family members away for treatment, the epidemic could stop very quickly. The problem is people don’t accept these measures. They go into hiding, or their families come and pull them out of hospital and take them back home, which helps the virus spread”.
Guinea was where Ebola struck first, and the country has paid a heavy price since the start of the year.but the situation appears to be stabilising in several regions. However since July Liberia and Sierra Leone have been considered as the frontline in the battle.
It is not impossible that the virus could make its way to Europe or elsewhere, but the risk is low, mainly thanks to stringent airport controls, says Baize.
“Ebola has no pandemic potential as it is transmitted by .proximity between individuals, so the
chances of its transmission far beyond the area affected by the epidemic are slight. You could eventually find an isolated case, getting through the net, but everything has been set up to prevent this. I am much more concerned about the virus breaking out of the infected area over neighbouring land borders, which can allow the epidemic to spread to other countries.”
There is currently neither treatment nor vaccine for the Ebola virus However there are a number of experimental protocols being tested, like one that has been used on two infected Americans recently repatriated for treatment. It is an antibody cocktail dubbed Zmapp.
“It’s a treatment based on a monoclonal antibody mixture, where the antibodies that are produced are capable of neutralising the virus, preventing it from entering cells and infecting new ones. It’s very experimental and for the moment has only been tested on primates,where it has proven efficient, but only when administered early. So we must be prudent, the doctors were treated very late in the process, and maybe when it was no longer effective,” says Baize.
The experimental serum has raised hopes in the countries hit by the virus, but the scientists have reservations, and Baize is among them.
“We can understand why the doctors accepted the treatment, and without any doubt they took the decision with their eyes open but it seems to me that it will be a far more delicate matter using it on the populations currently affected.especially as these treatments are preliminary and are barely beyond the prototype stage.”