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EBOLA CRISIS COULD LAST ANOTHER YEAR: EXPERT PETER PIOT

December 24, 2014 | Uhuruspirit

Microbiologist Dr Peter Piot, who co-discovered the Ebola virus in Zaire in 1976, says the crisis in West Africa could last until the end of 2015. (Credit: AFP)



The West African Ebola crisis which claimed its first victim exactly a year ago is likely to last until the end of 2015, according to a scientist who helped discover the virus.

Two-year-old Emile Ouamouno died in the remote village of Meliandou in southern Guinea on December 28 last year. His three-year-old sister, mother and grandmother died a few days later.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) says their deaths went unnoticed and the disease was undetected until March, when health officials in Guinea started to realise something serious was happening.

Ebola had never struck in West Africa and it took a while to recognise the start of what has become the world's worst outbreak of the virus, which has killed more than 7,500 people and infected nearly 19,500 in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia.

By August this year, the WHO declared the epidemic to be a "public health emergency of international concern".

Dr Peter Piot, Director of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, was part of the team that discovered Ebola in 1976.

He said there was progress in trying to stop the virus spreading, but it would take time to develop vaccines.

"This will be an epidemic with a very long tail, and a bumpy tail ... we need to be ready for a long effort, a sustained effort probably for the rest of 2015," he told the BBC.

The hemorrhagic fever, which causes vomiting, diarrhoea and bleeding, is spread by contact with bodily fluids of the sick and it has no known cure.

Scientists studying Ebola since its discovery in Zaire — now the Democratic Republic of Congo — in 1976 have long suspected fruit bats as being the natural hosts.

Virus has peaked in Liberia, soon to peak in Sierra Leone: expert

Dr Piot, who had just returned from Sierra Leone, said the virus had peaked in Liberia where it claimed about 3,376 lives, according to the WHO.

He said it was likely to peak in Sierra Leone in the next few weeks. The virus had claimed 2,556 lives so far in Sierra Leone, which had almost half of the confirmed cases.

Simple treatments like intravenous fluids and antibiotics had driven mortality rates in Sierra Leone to as low as one-in-three, compared to about 70 per cent previously, he said.

"Treatment centres have now been established across the country with British help. You don't see any longer the scenes where people are dying in the streets."

He added that developing a vaccine was essential "so that when there is another epidemic or maybe when this epidemic drags on for a long time, that we have that vaccine available".

This week the US Department of Health and Human Services awarded contracts to NewLink Genetics Corp. and GlaxoSmithKline Plc for faster development of vaccines.

- Reuters



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