Ebola: Researchers need access to virus samples for treatment, vaccines

U.S. researchers say their lack of access to Ebola samples hinders their efforts to understand the deadly virus and work on vaccinations and treatments for it, according to Reuters.

Ten scientists from eight prominent research institutions told Reuters they had not been able to obtain Ebola samples in recent months. For example, Charles Chiu, M.D., a microbiologist and infectious disease expert at the University of California, San Francisco, is working on developing a new genetic test to detect the virus ahead of symptoms, for which he needs samples from Ebola patients.

"No one really knows right now what has the virus mutated to or if it has mutated," Chiu told Reuters, and without determining the answer, "we're not going to be able to determine in advance whether or not it has changed to a form where it might evade diagnostic assays or might render current vaccines or drugs ineffective."

Both the World Health Organization (WHO) and the U.S. government are encouraging development of rapid testing technology for the virus, according to the New York Times, with the Food and Drug Administration signing off on emergency authorization for qualified Ebola tests.

Meanwhile, the virus in West Africa is deadlier and more wide-spread than previously thought, according to an analysis published in Complexity. The analysis found the outbreak has a fatality rate of 70 percent, rather than the 50 percent claimed by the WHO, and as many as 1 million people could be affected by early 2015.

In Texas, where Thomas Eric Duncan, the first Ebola patient diagnosed in the United States, died in the hospital, a task force established by Gov. Rick Perry (R) has announced new guidelines for healthcare workers returning from countries affected by the outbreak, according to the Dallas News. Unlike the policies approved in New Jersey and New York, the task force did not recommend mandatory quarantines for asymptomatic healthcare workers unless they met the "high-risk" criteria, such as accidental needle sticks or caring for Ebola patients without sufficient personal protective equipment, according to the article.

Healthcare professionals must reconcile "the impulse to shun the disease and the impulse to help its victims" if the outbreak is to be stopped, Abraham Verghese of Stanford University writes in the New York Times, citing progress containing the outbreak and the numerous doctors who have returned from the outbreak zone safely. "Still, a strategy that punishes those putting themselves at risk, rather than rewarding them, is flawed," he writes.

Craig Spencer, M.D., who was diagnosed with the virus and taken to Bellevue Hospital in New York City last month, remains in stable condition, according to the New York Daily News, with his condition improving over the weekend but remaining unchanged since.

To learn more:
- read the Reuters article
- here's the first Times article
- check out the Complexity study abstract
- read the Dallas News article
- check out the second Times piece
- here's the Daily News article