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BIOLOGY

EBOLA: THE SEARCH FOR A CURE

On 6th December 2013, in a remote village in Guinea, South Africa, a child passed away due to a mysterious disease. Within a few days of passing, his mother, sister and grandmother also met the same fate through the hands of the same disease, so did the two nurses that treated the family. The child’s name remained unknown, however; for epidemiologists, this child became “Patient Zero” as he was the first known patient of this disease and the disease was identified as Ebola. Unfortunately by the time Ebola was identified as a pandemic, the situation had already become out of control. Dr. Inger Damon believes that this delay caused the even wider spread of Ebola, if it was known sooner it could have been contained. The cause of Ebola is unknown however scientists believe that the cause may be the fruit bats that the locals often consumed. These bats were the carriers of the virus but it did not affect them. It became active in humans by taking over their healthy cells and multiplying through them at a horrific rate.

The symptoms of this virus were bloody diarrhea, vomiting, and internal bleeding, half of the patients who contracted the virus recovered but the ones with weaker immune systems were not so lucky, they died within 12 days but some did not even last that long. Their bodies were burned as they were still contagious along with their belongings. This, however, was not the first time the Ebola pandemic had broken out. In 1976, two vials of blood were received by Antwerp’s Institute of Tropical Medicine along with a word of a new disease outbreak in Congo. After studying the virus, it was decided that going to the source was the best way to study the virus even if it was extremely dangerous. After arrival in Congo, it was quickly discerned that this disease was not air-borne but transferred through physical touch and bodily fluids. The wider spread of this disease was due to funerals and the washing of the dead bodies before burial. The first step for the team was to limit physical contact of the Ebola victims so that the spread could be contained and the second step was to burn the bodies of the ones that did not survive. After the first outbreak of the virus, many more occurrences happened but all these were contained in Tropical Africa so the efforts of producing a vaccine were slow, however; this all changed in the 2000s when on 20th July, Patrick Sawyer collapsed in Lagos Airport, Nigeria. He died within five days, four people that he had come in contact with also met the same fate and sixteen were infected. Ebola was now a global crisis.

More funds were allocated in efforts to find a cure so the virus could be contained. For this purpose, the survivors of Ebola were sought out from Uganda, where the biggest Ebola outbreak was recorded. Their blood sample was taken and studied to observe the reaction against the virus. It was observed that the blood produced antibodies against the virus but in some cases, the virus quickly overtook the host before the immune system had enough time to produce antibodies. Now the scientists had a new problem not only did they had to make a vaccine that would stop the virus from taking over the cells but slow it down as well so the immune system would have enough time to fight against it. Ebola is a worm-like virus with protein spikes on its surface. These spikes attached themselves to the surface of the cell forcing it to engulf it, infecting the said cell, so a sample of antibodies was created by infecting monkies with Ebola then, to slow the spread of the virus antibodies were produced by using the rats infected with the disease then cultivated and the first samples of ZMapp were produced.

This vaccine was administered to two American missionary doctors who recovered within weeks. Finally, there was a vaccine to fight Ebola. Now this vaccine serves as a foundation for the development of better and more sustainable vaccines for Ebola (Ebola: The Search for a Cure – Video – Films On Demand).

Works Cited

Ebola: The Search for a Cure – Video – Films On Demand. https://digital-films-com.db15.linccweb.org/p_ViewVideo.aspx?xtid=60226. Accessed 20 Aug. 2021.

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