Ebola has been making front page news around the world since the latest and largest ever outbreak of the disease started back in March.
The West African nations of Sierra Leona, Guinea and Liberia are now counting thousands of dead.
Euronews went to the Institut Pasteur in Paris, dedicated to the study of diseases and vaccines, to meet Professor Jean-Claude Manuguerra – one of the first to ring the alarm bells about the recent outbreak. He and his team are working on a test to rapidly detect the presence of the Ebola virus in the body.
Professor Jean-Claude Manuguerra: “Ebola starts with a sudden fever, a bit like the flu, and then rapidly your throat and the rest of your body feel sore. Other symptoms, that have nothing to do with the flu set in rapidly, like vomiting and diarrhea. There may also be bleeding, but not necessarily.
“It is transmitted by physical contact. So it’s different to the flu, or measles and smallpox, which are airborne diseases. Here, you really need to have had physical contact with an infected person, or with their bodily fluids. There’s been much talk about sweat: if there are no cuts and if the infected person’s sweat contains no blood, then there is a very low chance of contagion. You can’t catch the virus by shaking somebody’s hand.”
Claudio Rocco, euronews: “What is the situation in Europe?”
Professor Jean-Claude Manuguerra: “In Europe, the situation is excellent. You know, this kind of virus usually targets people who are weak and takes root in countries without any healthcare system. Even though some cases of Ebola may be imported, it is virtually impossible for an epidemic to spread because we are very lucky: again, unlike the flu, people with Ebola are not contagious before they fall ill. Isolating Ebola patients and the follow-up of people who may have been in contact with them will break any epidemic chain. It’s easy when the number of cases is low, and for now, that is the case in Europe, since there are hardly any cases at all. It’s much more difficult when the number of cases grows.”
Claudio Rocco, euronews: “There are people who are afraid of travelling by plane because of Ebola. Is this justified?”
Professor Jean-Claude Manuguerra:“As far as I know, there has not been any case of contamination during air travel. Planes are a relatively hostile environment for viruses. So you can take the plane without any risk of catching Ebola.”
Claudio Rocco, euronews: “According to some research, fruit bats are suspected of being natural hosts of the Ebola virus. This raises the question about other animals as well as pets – for example dogs. Can they carry Ebola?
Professor Jean-Claude Manuguerra: “There’s been very little research on that. So we can’t dismiss that scenario. However, one study dating back to 2005 shows that during an epidemic in Gabon they found dogs that carried antibodies, which meant they had been in contact with the virus but hadn’t developed the disease. So they are probably not hosts for the disease.”
Claudio Rocco, euronews:
“Let’s talk about a possible vaccine. What’s the situation?”
Professor Jean-Claude Manuguerra: “I think the first clinical trials are due to start in early 2015. In the meantime, efficiency tests are being carried out on monkeys, bearing in mind that monkeys are good subjects because they are more sensitive than men, so if it works on monkeys, it can work on men. But as far as clinical trials on humans are concerned, it won’t be until next year.”
Claudio Rocco, euronews:
“How about the pharmaceutical industry? It has been criticised for not spending enough on research on Ebola.”
Professor Jean-Claude Manuguerra: “I think that the pharmaceutical industry, like any other industry, has its priorities. When it comes to public health, Ebola, until now, was not a priority. Until now, the 21 outbreaks of Ebola that have taken place since 1976 have led to less than 2.000 deaths. Compare that with the 1,6 million people who died of AIDS and the 1,3 million people who died of tuberculosis in the world in 2012 alone… Until now, Ebola has claimed less lives than seasonal flu. As there are few patients, it’s difficult to carry out research, especially as few laboratories are able to do it.”