Unless you’ve been living under a rock or in a cave these last several months, you’ve almost certainly heard about the Ebola epidemic now ravaging West Africa. Of course, if you have found yourself following the headlines, perhaps your contemplating a move to a cave or underneath a rock. Now, the world community finally appears to be ramping up the fight against the disease.
The World Health Organization has announced that an Ebola serum will be available to Africans within weeks. The serum was apparently developed from the blood of people who have previously survived the disease. Ebola has long been a popular subject for research, but until the recent outbreak there was little impetus to get experimental drugs into the field.
An epidemic of near biblical proportions can certainly change things quickly and health officials around the world are racing to stop the spread of the disease. While the world medical community may indeed have dropped the ball on this epidemic and let it get too far out of hand, the rapid influx of resources may be able to stem the tide in the spread of the disease.
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The recently announced serum could prove to be a vital element in the fight against the disease.
How The Ebola Serum Works
Understanding microbiology can be difficult, so we’re going to keep this simple. Our immune systems are exceptionally strong and by using a combination of specialized cells, anti-bodies, and other things, it is able to fight off most foreign invaders. A few diseases, however, such as Ebola and HIV, are able to overpower the immune system in many people.
Ebola’s mortality rate is generally between 50% to 90%. Recent advances in treatment procedures, and the possibility that this variant of the virus simply isn’t as lethal as past variants means that the mortality rate of the current disease has hovered closer to 50 percent. This means that the disease is overpower the immune system in about half of all people infected.
When a person survives it means that their immune system was able to overpower the disease using anti-bodies. These anti-bodies can be thought of as missiles, they will hunt down foreign invaders and attach to them. By attaching to cells, the anti-bodies can tag them for destruction or even directly disable the invader.
After the immune system gets rid of the foreign invader it stops producing anti-bodies and other cells used to destroy it. The immune system “remembers” what anti-bodies were effective, however, and stores the blue prints for producing them should the foreign invader turn up.
This means that people will build resistance to the virus (or other microbe) the next time it invades. Instead of having to experiment to develop new anti-bodies, the immune system can go back to its blue prints for the anti-body that worked best the last time around and begin producing it.
Researchers have now been using blood from people who have previously defeated Ebola to find the anti-bodies that they used to defeat it. By finding the anti-bodies and reproducing them, research should be able to help people defeat the virus.
Details Surrounding Serum Remain Unknown
So far details of the serum remain unknown. How much of a supply do medical authorities have? Who will be given access? Will the serum be donated, will governments have to pay for it, or will individuals have to pay for it? Not a lot is known yet though the picture should become more clear in the days ahead.
While details aren’t forthcoming, researchers have been working on a serum developed from survivors of past Ebola outbreaks.