While there’s been much encouraging news about the Ebola epidemic in West Africa in recent months, new infections with the virus continue, and the United States remains committed to doing what it takes to stop them.
U.S.-built Ebola treatment units and basic response infrastructure are in place, and thousands of U.S. supported civilian responders are at work to fight the disease. It’s killed more than 11,000 people in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone, and a handful in other countries, including our own.
Liberia has been declared Ebola free, but is still within a 90-day period on heightened scrutiny for recurrence of the disease. New cases continue to emerge elsewhere, with eight recently identified in Sierra Leone and 12 in Guinea. Cases continue in areas bordering Guinea–Bissau, and efforts to ensure that country is better prepared for Ebola cases are under way.
The U.S. National Institutes of Health is conducting trials on various candidate Ebola vaccines, including a controlled trial on the effectiveness of one vaccine in particular. NIH is also testing therapeutic drug candidates to treat those who have been infected; working to improve diagnosis of the disease, which has so far required sophisticated, labor-intensive DNA analysis; and studying the genetics of the Ebola virus and trying to better understand how it causes disease. In other words, the United States is supporting a wide range of research on prevention and treatment of Ebola.
Meanwhile, a partnership between U.S. and Liberian researchers is studying approximately 7,500 people in that country, including 1,500 who survived Ebola within the last two years.Health investigators want to better understand Ebola’s long-term health consequences and determine if survivors develop long-term immunity that will protect them from future infection. They also would like to better understand how the Ebola virus can persist in some organs of survivors long after they appear to have recovered, and the degree of risk that they can transmit the virus to others.
While we have succeeded in controlling the exponential growth of the disease, getting to zero cases will require a sustained international response. The fight is far from over and we remain committed to achieving an Ebola-free West Africa. The research U.S. and other scientists are carrying out now will improve the odds of preventing any future outbreak of Ebola from spreading as the 2014 epidemic did.