Tags: Ebola Outbreak | Ebola | vaccine | Osterholm | WHO

Top Doctor: 'Worst-Case-Scenario' on Ebola Without Effective Vaccine

By    |   Wednesday, 01 October 2014 09:18 AM

The Ebola virus is going to get much worse, warns a key health official, unless work is quickly done on an international scale to create at least 500 million doses of an effective Ebola virus vaccine.

Working on the virus will "require a partnership between government and vaccine manufacturers that puts it on the same footing as our response to an emerging global influenza pandemic," writes Dr. Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, in a Politico Magazine feature. "This will require mobilizing people and resources on a massive scale — it has to be the international community’s top priority."

The disease is spreading more quickly than anyone admits, Osterholm writes, and as the first case Ebola in the United States has been confirmed in the United States in Dallas, "imagine how quickly it could be spreading in Africa."

Osterholm has been sounding the alarm often about Ebola, including in a New York Times opinion piece last month that warned that the epidemic "has the potential to alter history as much as any plague has ever done."

In his Politico piece, Osterholm said that the virus is continuing to spread quickly, and if it infects Africa's slums, "the epidemic to date will just be an opening chapter," he writes. "Africa contains more than a billion people, and is growing faster than anywhere else in the world. If world leaders don’t make it a priority now to secure up to 500 million doses of an effective Ebola virus vaccine, we may live to regret our inaction."

In fact, said Osterholm, the disease is spreading "faster than anyone would like to admit, and the current, slow international response to the deadly disease is morphing into a modern tragedy."

Nobody knows how bad the epidemic really is, he said. The official number of reported deaths in Africa is at 3,044, but the World Health Organization believes the real death toll may be three times that number.

"Just last week, the WHO estimated that as many as 20,000 EVD cases would likely occur in the three affected countries by early November," said Osterholm.

And unless effective intervention happens, he said, the Centers for Disease Control have projected a worst-case scenario of 1.4 million cases in Liberia and Sierra Leone by January, he points out.

The CDC says it's confident that the Ebola case in Texas was confined, reports The Washington Times, but earlier this year, it warned that congressional cuts could make it difficult for state and local health departments to be prepared for a potential pandemic.

Federal funding for public health emergency preparedness has shrunk by $1 billion from the highs that were allocated after the 2001 terrorist attacks and subsequent anthrax mailings, and state and local public health departments have lost some 45,700 jobs since 2008.

Osterholm said he is not trying to predict how many people will contract Ebola, but "there will be a lot of them — more than we should ever imagine."

However, there is "no realistic scheme" to stop Ebola's spread in Africa, or potentially elsewhere in the world, he warned.

Efforts to smother or stop the virus aren't working, said Osterholm, and the only real solution is to develop and deliver an effective vaccine "potentially to most of the people in West Africa and maybe even to most of the population of the African continent," he writes.

And while optimists, including Bill Gates, who predicts the epidemic would be under control within six months after his foundation donated $50 million toward fighting the disease, say things are under control, Osterholm said a quick solution is not happening.

Joanne Liu, the international president of the NGO Doctors Without Borders has said that the "field we are moving at [is] the speed of a turtle," and there is not sufficient aid to fight the disease.

Osterholm points out that Doctors Without Borders have been warning since March that this Ebola outbreak would require a larger response, but nobody listened and the virus spread.

"Once it got a foothold in crowded, poverty-stricken West African cities, it was like igniting gasoline," said Osterholm.

President Barack Obama has said he would deploy military troops, an important step, but "the president’s promises of a month ago have been slow to become reality, and in many instances have not yet been acted upon," he noted.

And containing the disease may not be so easy, as "everything in my 40 years of experience as a public health official and infectious disease researcher tells me this virus has a high likelihood of spreading to other African countries," Osterholm says. "And unlike in Nigeria and Senegal, it might not be so easily contained this time."

The disease will likely spread further in the upcoming months, when West African men and boys set out for a migratory work force next month.

The men use little-known routes and layovers to avoid checkpoints, said Osterholm, and "there is no need for Ebola to hop a ride on an airplane to move across Africa: It can travel by foot."

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The Ebola virus is going to get much worse, warns a key health official, unless work is quickly done on an international scale to create at least 500 million doses of an effective Ebola virus vaccine.
Ebola, vaccine, Osterholm, WHO
Wednesday, 01 October 2014 09:18 AM
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