Only a short while ago, I was noting that two American health workers in Liberia had contracted the Ebola virus in the process of aiding Ebola patients. Since then, they have been flown back to the US--to Emory University in Atlanta--to be treated with what CNN first called a "mystery drug" but then revised that to an experimental drug (or combination of drugs) that so far have kept them alive. At the same time, the spread of the disease has continued unabated, and today's New York Times suggests that the disease might even destabilize the region because of the fear that it instills, making it harder to control than might even otherwise be the case. Citing a paper just published in the New England Journal of Medicine, the NYTimes story suggests that the current outbreak may have occurred in Guinea, right at the intersection of that country with Sierra Leone and Liberia, along a well-paved and well-traveled route (see map below):
The experimental drugs being used to treat the Ebola virus have a San Diego connection, as it turns out, and today's San Diego Union-Tribune has a lengthy description of the role that labs in San Diego have played in combating this and other viruses. Indeed, the story has a good history of the milestones in our historically short battle to control the spread of viruses.
As the ongoing Ebola outbreak sweeps across national borders, the biotechnology industry has finally assembled the tools that could cure the deadly viral disease. And preventing the infection itself may very well be in sight.With each new victory over viruses, bacteria, and protozoa, we edge life expectancy a little closer to the human lifespan. However, victories require not just medicines and vaccinations, but changes in human activity:
The innovation can only be described as dizzying. For thousands of years, humanity struggled with viruses — without even knowing that they existed. But starting with the discovery of viruses at the end of the 19th century, medical researchers have refined their understanding of these mysterious entities on the edge of life.
Health experts have grown increasingly confident in recent years that they can control Ebola, Dr. Frieden [Director of CDC] said, based on success in places like Uganda.
But those successes hinged on huge education campaigns to teach people about the disease and persuade them to go to treatment centers. Much work also went into getting people to change funeral practices that involve touching corpses, which are highly infectious.