World Health Organization to release ebola virus vaccine by 2018

ebola virus alert graphic

ebola virus alert graphic

In its news release on Friday, 23rd December, 2016, the world health organization says a highly effective vaccine that provides 100% protection from the deadly Ebola virus should be due for release by 2018.

Research conducted in Guinea, one of the West African countries worst hit by the Ebola outbreak of 2013 to 2016 reveals that the vaccine offers 100 percent protection.

The first Ebola case was recorded in 1976, since then there has been occasional sporadic outbreaks in Africa, the 2013-2016 outbreak that claimed 11300 lives highlighted the need for a vaccine.

The vaccine, called, rVSV-ZEBOV, was studied in guinea in a trial involving 11841 people who had been in contact with a person with confirmed Ebola virus infection. In the 5837 people that received the vaccine, no Ebola cases were recorded ten days or more after vaccination, however in another group of similar number of people that did not get the vaccine, 23 cases of Ebola were recorded ten days or more after the vaccine was administered to the other group that was given the vaccine.

The study was published in the lancet medical journal.

In collaboration with other international partners the trial was lead by WHO, Guinea’s ministry of health, Medecins sans Frontieres and the Norwegian Institute of Public Health.

Dr Marie-Paule Kieny, WHO’s Assistant Director-General for Health Systems and Innovation, and the study’s lead author, remarked that “While these compelling results come too late for those who lost their lives during West Africa’s Ebola epidemic, they show that when the next Ebola outbreak hits, we will not be defenseless,”.

The ring vaccination approach, an innovative technique used to eradicate the small pox virus was used to deliver the vaccines. The trial took place in the coastal region of Basse-Guinée, the area of Guinea that was experiencing new Ebola cases when the trial started in 2015.

“Ebola left a devastating legacy in our country. We are proud that we have been able to contribute to developing a vaccine that will prevent other nations from enduring what we endured,” said Dr KeÏta Sakoba, Coordinator of the Ebola Response and Director of the National Agency for Health Security in Guinea.

In his remarks, Dr John-Arne Røttingen, specialist director at the Norwegian Institute of Public Health, and the chairman of the study steering group said ,”This both historical and innovative trial was made possible thanks to exemplary international collaboration and coordination, the contribution of many experts worldwide, and strong local involvement,”.

The vaccine manufacturer Merck has made 300000 doses of the vaccine available for emergency use in the interim before the vaccine is submitted for licensure in late 2107. GAVI, the global vaccine alliance provided $5Million us dollars for the procurement.

Frequently asked questions on Ebola virus disease
1. What is Ebola virus disease?
Ebola virus disease (formerly known as Ebola haemorrhagic fever) is a severe, often fatal illness, with a death rate of up to 90% caused by Ebola virus, a member of the filovirus family.
The Ebola virus was first identified in 1976 when 2 simultaneous outbreaks occurred, 1 in Yambuku, a village not far from the Ebola River in the Democratic Republic of Congo and the other in a remote area of Sudan.
The origin of the virus is unknown, but current evidence suggests that fruit bats (Pteropodidae) may be a host.

2. How do people become infected with the Ebola virus?
People become infected with Ebola either through contact with infected animals (usually following butchering, cooking or eating) or through contact with the bodily fluids of infected humans. Most cases are caused by human to human transmission which occurs when blood or other bodily fluids or secretions (stool, urine, saliva, semen) of infected people enters a healthy person’s body through broken skin or mucous membranes.
Infection can also occur if the broken skin or the mucous membranes of a healthy person comes into contact with items or environments contaminated with bodily fluids from an infected person. These may include soiled clothing, bed linen, gloves, protective equipment and medical waste such as used hypodermic syringes.

3. Who is most at risk?
During an outbreak, those at higher risk of infection are:
• health workers;
• family members or others in close contact with infected people;
• mourners who have direct contact with bodies during burial rituals.

4. Why are mourners at burial ceremonies considered at risk of contracting Ebola?
Levels of Ebola virus remain high after death, thus bodies of those who have died from Ebola virus disease must be handled only by people wearing appropriate personal protective equipment and must be buried immediately. WHO advises that bodies of people who may have died from Ebola virus disease should be handled only by trained burial teams, who are equipped to properly bury the dead, safely and with dignity.

5. Why are health-care workers at greater risk of catching Ebola?
Health-care workers are at greater risk of infection if they are not wearing correct personal protective equipment (PPE) or are not applying infection prevention and control (IPC) measures when caring for patients. All health-care providers working at all levels of the health system – hospitals, clinics and health posts – should be fully informed about the disease and its mode of transmission and should follow recommended precautions strictly.

6. Can Ebola be transmitted sexually?
Sexual transmission of the Ebola virus, from males to females, is a strong possibility, but has not yet been proven. Less probable, but theoretically possible, is female to male transmission. More surveillance data and research are needed on the risks of sexual transmission, and particularly on the prevalence of viable and transmissible virus in semen over time. In the interim, and based on present evidence, WHO recommends that:

• All Ebola survivors and their sexual partners should receive counselling to ensure safe sexual practices until their semen has twice tested negative. Survivors should be provided with condoms.
• Male Ebola survivors should be offered semen testing at 3 months after onset of disease, and then, for those who test positive, every month thereafter until their semen tests negative for virus twice by RT-PCR, with an interval of one week between tests.
• Ebola survivors and their sexual partners should either:
o abstain from all types of sex, or
o observe safe sex through correct and consistent condom use until their semen has twice tested negative.
• Having tested negative, survivors can safely resume normal sexual practices without fear of Ebola virus transmission.
• Based on further analysis of ongoing research and consideration by the WHO Advisory Group on the Ebola Virus Disease Response, WHO recommends that male survivors of Ebola virus disease practice safe sex and hygiene for 12 months from onset of symptoms or until their semen tests negative twice for Ebola virus.
• Until such time as their semen has twice tested negative for Ebola, survivors should practice good hand and personal hygiene by immediately and thoroughly washing with soap and water after any physical contact with semen, including after masturbation. During this period used condoms should be handled safely, and safely disposed of, so as to prevent contact with seminal fluids.
• All survivors, their partners and families should be shown respect, dignity and compassion.

7. What are the typical signs and symptoms of Ebola virus infection?
Ebola symptoms vary but sudden onset of fever, intense weakness, muscle pain, headache and sore throat are commonly experienced at the beginning of the disease (‘the dry phase’). As the disease progresses, people commonly develop vomiting and diarrhoea (‘the wet phase’), rash, impaired kidney and liver function, and in some cases, both internal and external bleeding.

8. How long does it take for people to develop symptoms after being infected?
The incubation period, or the time interval from infection to onset of symptoms, is from 2 to 21 days. People are not contagious until they develop symptoms. Ebola virus disease infections can only be confirmed through laboratory testing.

9. When should someone seek medical care?
A person with Ebola-like symptoms (fever, headache, muscle aches, headache, vomiting, diarrhoea) who has been in contact with living or dead people suspected to have had Ebola or has travelled to an area known to have cases of Ebola virus disease should seek medical care immediately.

10. Is there any treatment for Ebola?
Supportive care, especially fluid replacement therapy, carefully managed and monitored by trained health workers improves chances of survival. Other treatments being used to help people survive Ebola virus disease include, where available, kidney dialysis, blood transfusions, plasma replacement therapy.
There is currently no specific drug proven effective against the Ebola virus in humans but research into potential drug therapies is ongoing. Research into use of plasma and blood donated by survivors is also ongoing.

11. Can people with Ebola be cared for at home?
WHO does not advise families or communities to care for individuals with symptoms of Ebola virus disease at home. People with such symptoms should seek treatment in a hospital or treatment centre staffed by doctors and nurses equipped to treat Ebola virus disease.
If a person dies at home and is suspected of having died from Ebola virus disease, family and community members should refrain from handling or preparing the body for burial. The local health authorities should be contacted immediately and asked to send a dead body management team.

12. Can Ebola be prevented?
People can protect themselves from infection with Ebola virus following specific infection prevention and control measures.

Author: Faisol Oladosu

Faisol - founder of

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