A Cure For Ebola?
Like many people, in the 1990s I was terrified of Ebola. Richard Preston’s all-too-vivid novels saw to that, along with a plethora of other books, television shows and movies like “Contagion.” The virus kills about 90 percent of the people that it infects, and the victims die terribly: choking on their own fluids, with blood seeping from places that blood does not ordinarily seep.
As the millennium ticked over and the years went by, it eventually became clear that, barring some kind of surprising mutation, Ebola was not really the stuff of apocalyptic nightmares after all. The good news, if one can morbidly use the phrase in this context, was that ebola was SO deadly and SO swift that it rarely spread far. If it had a slower progression, if it became airborne, if it left more survivors who could carry the disease into major population centers… if if if.
But even though we in the West have largely forgotten the terror of Ebola, for many people in the world it remains a real and present danger. An outbreak of Ebola happens at least once a year, mainly on the African continent. One person died in Uganda last year. 15 people died in the Congo the year before that. 39 the year before that, and 186 the year before that.
These numbers may not seem like much, in the grand scheme of things. But for one thing, those numbers aren’t small if one of them is your mother, your father, your child or yourself. For another thing, solving the Ebola crisis means short-circuiting any global pandemic or bioterror scenarios. And look at it this way; life in the Congo is so miserable for most of its citizens, what kind of monster would ignore a way to make it a little less horrible?
Researchers at the National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg, Canada have “developed a cocktail of antibodies” which has been shown to cure the Zaire strain of Ebola (one of the worst, fastest-spreading, most deadly) in monkeys. A staggering 100 percent of monkeys treated within the first 24 hours of infection survived. (Untreated monkeys died within five days.)
Clinical trials in humans are on the plate for the next phase of testing. The 24-hour window makes it difficult, but it at least offers some hope to communities which formerly had none. It also offers protection for clinicians and aid workers who come to the assistance of ebola-stricken villages. All in all, this is definitely a bright moment for humanity.