October 16, 2014
Ebola Outbreak: How Some Infected Could Control Disease Before Vaccine Is Available

Infected Ebola victims could be the key to stopping the virus' spread? This theory is being introduced by U.S. scientists who believe something else might intervene with the virus' deadly path before a vaccine is readily available.

After killing 4,493 people and infecting 8,997, breaking the record set in 1976, scientists have reason to think it's possible certain victims infected with the disease can be vital in controlling it.

A team of scientists from the University of Texas and Florida think the Ebola virus is "silently immunizing" a significant portion of the West African population, the Daily Mail reports. Those who've never fallen ill or infected someone else, are protecting them from future infection.

Researchers say those infected with Ebola, but not experiencing the ill symptoms, would be essential in controlling the disease; the victims would have a "natural immunity" to the outbreak. They wouldn't have high fevers, headaches, and flu-like symptoms.

Dr. Steve Bellan and Dr. Lauren Ancel Meyers of the University of Texas have consulted with public health officials to conduct studies in the three worst-infected areas -- Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Guinea.

Dr. Bellan says this could be a life-saving study.

"Ultimately, knowing whether a large segment of the population in the afflicted regions are immune to Ebola could save lives.

"If we can reliably identify who they are, they could become people who help with disease-control tasks, and that would prevent exposing others who aren't immune.

"We might not have to wait until we have a vaccine to use immune individuals to reduce the spread of disease."

A study done by Dr. Juliet Pulliam at the University of Florida revealed that 71 percent of those who came in close contact with an Ebola patient and wound up getting infected themselves, didn't become sick. 46 percent of people who came into close contact with a victim and didn't get ill, had evidence of being infected with the disease.

If those people can be identified, they could give blood transfusions for those infected and be recruited as health care workers for the sick.

Dr. Pulliam believes those infected are protected from future infections, and would be invaluable to the disease's spread.

"We want to know whether people who are infected without getting sick become immune.

"If these people are protected from future infections, this would open up new opportunities for controlling the disease.

"If infection without disease protects people from future Ebola infections and illness, the epidemic should decline sooner than currently predicted and affect a smaller number of people."

The big question is whether Ebola provides immunity from future infections.

According to USA Today a vaccine study is being actively conducted in Maryland. Overall, two types of vaccines are currently being tested to find a cure for the Ebola outbreak. One is by the Public Health Agency of Canada at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research in Silver Spring, and the other by GlaxoSmithKline at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda.

[Image via BBC]