The CDC outlined its contribution in the fight against Ebola.
CDC Director Tom Frieden, M.D., M.P.H. said there had been a “…dramatic decrease of new Ebola cases in Liberia during the first part of the year.”
However, Frieden warned, “Despite these signs of hope, the fight against Ebola is far from over.”
West African Region still Vulnerable to Ebola Resurgence
In March 2014, an outbreak of Ebola was reported by public health officials in West Africa. The CDC and other international organizations responded quickly by sending teams to work with Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone governments. It was the “largest international outbreak response in the agency’s 70-year history”. (1)
Emergency operations centers were established in the three countries along with a system to trace patient contacts. This wasn’t an easy task since some of the regions are located in the “world’s hardest-to-reach areas”.
In Sierra Leone, 12,000 blood samples were tested for the Ebola virus. This was accomplished in “just one CDC lab”. As a way to improve infection control “more than 23,000 West African healthcare workers” were trained.
In addition to these efforts, messages had to be developed “to help people understand how to protect themselves and their families”. Over the past years, the CDC sent nearly 1,910 workers to West Africa to assist in the Ebola epidemic.
The news release explained that the CDC helped to establish an airport screening protocol in the US. This screening was to ensure “all travelers from the affected West African countries are screened on arrival, and worked with state health partners to monitor returning travelers for 21 days to ensure they are Ebola-free.”
Other accomplishments that the CDC announced it had made included helping to establish designated Ebola treatment centers. This encompassed 55 facilities in 17 states and the District of Columbia.
How Ebola Threat Looks in 2015
The first part of 2015 has seen a “steady decrease in new cases…” Yet, the CDC cautions that as of late March 2015, a new Ebola case was diagnosed in Liberia and other patients were continuing to be diagnosed in Sierra Leone and Guinea. The continued cropping up of Ebola cases, according to the CDC, demonstrates just “how vulnerable the region remains” (2).
To reach zero in new Ebola cases will require continued work in West Africa. According to the CDC, “Important headway has been made, but the fight is far from over, and we risk losing ground if we don’t stay focused.”
Healthcare workers still face many challenges in Sierra Leone and Guinea. Many of the Ebola cases have “unexplained chains of transmission”. This means there are still cases that have yet to be identified.
A prime example is the late March Ebola case confirmed in Liberia. Prior to this case, there had been zero instances of new Ebola cases for over 21 days. This points to a significant challenge in trying to “get to zero.”
Some people may still be reluctant to seek out medical attention or live in remote areas. These cases go undetected and reported until another outbreak occurs or a single case appears like the one in March.
SNew Ebola Vaccine Trial Underway in Guinea
On March 25, 2015, The World Health Organization (WHO) announced the “First Ebola Vaccine” efficacy trial in Guinea using the VSV-EBOV vaccine. The VSV-EBOV experimental vaccine for Ebola filovirus was developed by the Canadian National Microbiology Laboratory (3).
The vaccine was administered to “an affected community of the Basse-Guinée, one of the areas where most Ebola cases are found in the country.” Participation is voluntary. Dr. Bertrand Draguez, Medical Director for the Non-governmental Organization Médecins sans Frontières (MSF) explained that it’s also, “confidential, free and non-remunerated.”
WHO Representative in Guinea, Dr. Jean-Marie Dangou, explained that the “ring vaccination clinical testing” in Guinea is, “…one of the most important milestones we have achieved in seeking a modern line of defense against Ebola” (4).
Ring vaccination identifies “recently infected patients” and then vaccinates everyone the patient came in contact with. This strategy creates a ring of immunity around the circle of people and prevents the virus from spreading.
For the present time, only adults at risk of infection will be vaccinated with pregnant women being the exception.
Dr. Ana Maria Henao Restrepo, WHO Coordinator for the Guinea Vaccine Trial stated, “This very same strategy [ring vaccination] was a key contribution to eradicating smallpox in the 1970s, and allows us to vaccinate all those at greatest risk.”
The National Coordinator of the Fight against Ebola in Guinea, Dr. Sakoba Keita, stated, “We are committed to ending this epidemic. Combined with control measures that we are putting in place with our partners, a safe and effective vaccine will allow us to close this trying chapter and start rebuilding our country.”
The plan is to vaccinate 190 rings over a 6-8 week period for a total of approximately 10,000 people. “Volunteers will be followed for three months.” WHO expects results of the ring vaccination trial will be available sometime in July 2015 (5).