An Ebola Update: Will There Be An International Emergency?

August 7, 2014

Biohazard SuitcaseHundreds more have come down with Ebola, and the disease is beginning to leapfrog to other countries as businessmen carry it home via airplane. Nigeria, Africa’s most populated country, now has a small but growing number of cases, and there may be one in Saudi Arabia (who doesn’t seem to have learned anything from MERS—they are stomping their feet and emphasizing tests aren’t in).

Things are really starting to pick up speed, and if you haven’t been paying attention, you should be.

The World Health Organization is debating two things.

First, should it declare a Public Health Emergency of International Concern? It would grant more powers, including quarantine, that may be crucial to stemming the flow of infected persons to other countries.

Second, should we be offering experimental treatments to people in the center of the outbreaks?

If you live in the US, you’re probably used to hearing about how complicated and long our drug approval system is—it’s the reason why drugs cost so much. There’s a lot of testing to be done before they’re deemed safe enough to use.

I once knew a researcher who had worked on a drug that straight up cured heart arrhythmias—Great! Buuuuut, it also caused cancer. And they couldn’t find a permutation that didn’t cause cancer, nothing they snipped or added to the molecule fixed it—and probably, the same part that cured arrhythmia caused the cancer. So after a decade, they’d gotten no where! Cancer is clearly worse than a heart arrhythmia, but is there any side effect worse than Ebola, which is usually deadly in 9 out of 10 cases? (So far we’re doing better, and closer to 6 out of 10 this outbreak).

The two health care workers transferred to the US have received experimental treatments, and seem to be doing better. Should we be giving it to others? Can they really give informed consent (compared to the workers who likely knew everything there was to know about the treatments and why they aren’t available yet)?

And if we do skip through the approval process and field test Ebola treatments, who do we give them to? We don’t have a stockpile—there isn’t enough to go around. (How would I answer this? I guess it depends on if there’s enough to try and treat everyone currently infected and quash the outbreak).

We all need to be concerned about stopping the spread of Ebola. I’m not sure what the average person can do besides send thoughts and prayers to health care workers on the front line. If it makes it here, we’re pretty much done for. (So I guess we should also prepare for the worst, and stockpile our favorite health tools).

Are you watching the Ebola outbreak? Thoughts?

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