34

Wikipedia's page on "Ebola Virus Disease" states:

No specific treatment for the virus is available.

Wikipedia's page on "Ebola Virus" also states:

There is no cure for Ebola, but if people get care quickly from doctors and nurses at a hospital, more of them live.

So how are there news articles telling us of people with Ebola who have been cured?

We have a myriad of news articles describing people in the U.S and around the world. afflicted with Ebola that have now been cured:

Is there really no treatment for the disease? Then how are these people surviving? How are they getting treated? I am especially confused by the wording the articles use. Some use the word "surviving" to describe some people's incidents with the disease, which would imply that they had not been cured, but some articles also state they "were cured", which would imply there exists a cure for Ebola.

  • 7
    From your same Wikipedia page, Ebola "... has a high risk of death in those infected which varies between 25 percent and 90 percent of those infected. As of September 2014, the average risk of death among those infected is 50 percent. The risk of death was 90 percent in the 2002–2003 Republic of the Congo outbreak." It doesn't simply kill everyone infected. – Is Begot Oct 28 '14 at 17:28
  • 13
    No specific treatment. There are plenty of things that can be done to help them. For example, due to vomiting and diarrhea patients can easily become dehydrated, so IV fluids are used to help them stay hydrated. – Rob Watts Oct 28 '14 at 17:29
  • 5
    In some ways, it's like a really bad case of influenza. Not everyone dies from it (in fact, with influenza, usually very few people die from it), and survival is improved with palliative care, but there really isn't a "cure" so to speak. Better care improves the survival rate, which may be why the rate is so high in the United States. – Sean Duggan Oct 28 '14 at 17:41
  • 2
    Please submit answers and avoid using comments for unreferenced "pseudo-answers." – Oddthinking Oct 28 '14 at 17:47
  • 3
    The phrases "were cured" or "are cured" are a synonym for "is no longer suffering from the disease." For example you could say, "I had influenza last week, but now I'm cured." That would not necessarily mean that received any specific antiviral therapy to cure you. – ChrisW Oct 29 '14 at 0:46
29

There are not many types of "specific" Antiviral drug.

Ebola is treated as described later in the Wikipedia article you quoted:

Treatment is primarily supportive in nature. These measures may include management of pain, nausea, fever and anxiety, as well as rehydration via the oral or by intravenous route. (etc.)

If professional care is not possible, guidelines by WHO for care at home have been relatively successful.

Intensive care is often used in the developed world. This may include maintaining blood volume and electrolytes (salts) balance as well as treating any bacterial infections that may develop. Dialysis may be needed for kidney failure, and extracorporeal membrane oxygenation may be used for lung dysfunction.

  • 28
    This. Basically, the difference between treatment and cure -- the former boils down to "keep the patient alive long enough for their immune system to clear the disease out of the body". – Shadur Oct 29 '14 at 7:47
  • 3
    @Shadur I think you should post this as an answer. While existing answers are not incorrect, I think you touch upon a fundamental misunderstanding that many people have about the role of our immune systems in fighting disease. Expanding upon your comment to explain that would, I think, really help a lot of readers. – Nicholas Oct 29 '14 at 18:47
  • I guess "cured" is catchier than "survived and probably would have died without intensive supportive treatment" (and less misleading than just "recovered" or "survived" which could imply they'd have survived without treatment). – user56reinstatemonica8 Oct 30 '14 at 10:45
49

There is no cure just as there is no cure for the flu. You get sick, you don't die, and eventually you get better. With proper medical care(IV fluids in large quantities) Ebola kills 30% of the people who get it. Even with poor medical treatment it "only" kills 70% of the people who get it. Ebola isn't instant death for everyone who gets it, some survive, and with proper care even more people survive.

http://www.npr.org/2014/10/23/358363535/why-do-ebola-mortality-rates-vary-so-widely

14

An experimental drug called ZMapp, a combination of three monoclonal antibodies, exists. It showed great promise in treating rhesus macaques http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v514/n7520/full/nature13777.html but its use in humans so far has been too limited to be statistically significant.

The supplies of ZMapp have currently been exhausted. Its developer, Mapp Biopharmaceutical, has recently contracted with the US government (Health and Human Services; Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response; Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority) to develop and manufacture ZMapp. The contract is worth $24.9 million initially (but can be extended).

Profectus BioSciences has received $28M in funding to develop and produce their VesiculoVax vaccine:

There are other vaccines in the works as well, such as VSV-EBOV (Canada's National Microbiology Lab), an effort by Crucell (funding via US government, NIH, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases), a rabies-based vaccine via Thomas Jefferson University, and a vaccine from Immunovaccine, Inc.

10

There is no cure for Ebola. There is a difference between the words mentioned, survived, recovered, cured, disease-free. Unfortunately, these words are used interchangeably (in a colloquial context} by some (not all!) in the media. One DOES become Ebola free but that is NOT equivalent to survived or recovered initially:

Ebola victims who survive -- the virus kills 60 to 90 percent of those it infects -- first must... spend weeks, if not months, regaining their strength and body weight following the ravages of Ebola ... and ought to emerge from their struggle with immune resistance against future Ebola infection. They also will likely feel some echoes of the overwhelming pain that Ebola infection causes. There's not a lot that doctors can do ... besides monitoring patients' vitals, providing pain medications, and encouraging them to eat and drink.

Survival and full recovery is possible for Ebola patients although future immunity is not certain. Ebola patients are the least likely to become reinfected though (same source as above).

As for being disease-free, Ebola can hide in reservoirs in the body. It has been found in the urine and semen of people from one to two months following recovery. Eventually the virus does go away. (See same source.)

Regarding cures in this specific part of the question, "So how are there news articles telling us of people with Ebola who have been cured?", see FDA warns consumers about fake Ebola cures:

Since the outbreak of the Ebola virus in West Africa, the FDA has seen and received consumer complaints about a variety of products claiming to either prevent the Ebola virus or treat the infection...Unfortunately, during outbreak situations, fraudulent products that claim to prevent, treat, or cure a disease all too often appear on the market.

7

There is evidence that blood transfusions from recovered patients are effective. http://jid.oxfordjournals.org/content/179/Supplement_1/S18.long

The article above reports testing such blood transfusions on 8 infected patients, of which a single one died. This fatality rate is 12.5% vs the normal rate of 80% in that outbreak.

In this current outbreak several patients in the US have been treated with the blood of recovered ebola patients.

Ebola patients that have recovered have antibodies in their blood. These antibodies allow our immune system to identify and eliminate viruses.

  • There's been caveats with the evidence as the transfusion are typically part of a cocktail of treatment and not provided in isolation. I think it is a potential intriguing "cure". While it is unethical to only provide this treatment, if the patient wanted to only receive a transfusion for the sake of science... I wouldn't oppose it. – Sun Oct 28 '14 at 22:28
  • 10
    8 patients isn't exactly a large sample set, but @sunk818 put his finger on the ethical problems involved in clinical tests -- if we throw absolutely everything at the problem and the patient lives, it's hard to tell which factor or combination of factors did the trick, but if we don't throw everything at it and the patient dies, I wouldn't want to be the one to tell their grieving family that "Well, now at least we know what doesn't work"... – Shadur Oct 29 '14 at 7:50
  • @Shadur Eight patients is particularly troubling since the other answers suggest about a 70% recovery rate with good medical care. 70% of eight people is 5-6 people, so you'd only have expected two or three of those eight people to die even without the blood transfusions. – David Richerby Oct 30 '14 at 9:37
  • @davidricherby Either way, 8 patients isn't even remotely a statistically useful sample. – Shadur Oct 30 '14 at 9:41
  • @Shadur That's precisely what I was saying, yes: the treatment "saved" one or maybe two extra people compared to ordinary medical treatment, which could easily be a fluke. – David Richerby Oct 30 '14 at 9:52
4

No, but there is a substantial investment being made on a vaccine

Drug makers stand to make $1 billion in federal contracts to develop stockpiles of Ebola vaccines and treatments for the U.S. government. - CNN

These, however, are experimental vaccines.

The World Health Organization (WHO) announced plans on October 24 to produce millions of doses of two experimental Ebola vaccines by the end of 2015. - Scientific America

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .