Untested drugs approved to treat Ebola patients

Vibha Pandurangi, Lead News Editor

(Photo courtesy: The Guardian, Web)
Ebola Treatment Center in Kailahun, Sierra Leone (Photo courtesy: The Guardian, Web)

With no proven treatment for the virus and a rising death count of over 1,000, the World Health Organization has declared the use of untested drugs and vaccines as ethical in combating the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. This Ebola outbreak is the biggest on record with over 1,900 people having contracted the disease; yet, the World Health Organization has stated that that the numbers on record of the dead and infected could largely underestimate the extent of the outbreak.

First discovered in 1976, there is still no vaccine or drug for the virus. The Ebola virus is spread through bodily fluids with symptoms taking eight to ten days to appear. Physicians can only attempt to nurse patients through the illness by stabilizing their blood pressure and treating other illnesses that patients may contract in their weakened state. With over a 50 percent fatality rate, critical organs like the kidney, liver, heart, and lungs begin to fail.

Junior Angie Peng stresses the necessity of treating this deadly virus despite the lack of safe treatment.

“Dealing with something as devastating as the Ebola outbreak, the risk of using unapproved medication should be taken cautiously, but taken nonetheless, “ Peng said. “Seeing as the virus has as high of a fatality rate as it does, the only other alternative for most of the ill is death. If anything, the drugs could prove to better the health conditions for many people.”

Although it has never been tested on humans, a new experimental treatment called ZMapp could be used in treating Ebola patients. The Mapp Pharmaceutical-made drug has worked in infected monkeys when tested.  ZMapp does not fight the disease itself, but boosts the immune system to help fight off the illness. US supply of the drug has been exhausted, and the company says two or three more months are necessary to produce even a modest amount of ZMapp. Currently, the last supply of the drug is being sent to Liberia to treat two doctors who have contracted the virus.

To account for the low supply of ZMapp, Canada announced that it would send 800 to 1000 doses of its own experimental drug that also has never been tested on humans. Dr. Gregory Taylor, deputy head of the Public Health Agency of Canada, recommends that the drug be given to healthcare workers and doctors first, especially considering the limited supply of the drug available.

The lack of medication is made even more alarming by the extremely limited space in Ebola treatment centers. Official records are unable to keep up with the number of Ebola cases, according to the World Health Organization. Eighty beds in a newly opened treatment center in Liberia’s capital were filled in one day, and even after the center was filled, dozens of people arrived the next day to be treated. The UN health agency states that it is unable to accurately determine the magnitude of the outbreak and recognizes that it may take months from now to curb the spread.

Senior Aaron Petykowski recognizes how difficult it will be to contain the rapidly spreading illness regionally and globally.

“I think that it’s difficult to completely stop travel from anywhere, and if it’s attempted, there will be people who will get around it illegally.” Petykowski said. “Maybe  a screening process should be in place, and in the event someone or something is carrying the disease, they could be delayed until they are no longer showing symptoms.”