Ebola Back in the DRC: An Opportunity for New Tools to be Tried

The latest appearance of the Ebola virus, which has caused approximately 30 identified outbreaks in humans since it was first recognized in 1976, will provide an opportunity to gauge how outbreak response has improved over the past 3 years. That this outbreak is occurring in the DRC, a nation relatively adept at managing the virus, will likely lead to its rapid extinguishment. Thus far, there are 11 suspected cases and 3 deaths in the remote area of the DRC where the disease has reappeared. The index case has secondarily (and fatally) infected one of his caregivers and his taxi driver. Contacts are under surveillance and thus far one has tested positive (and there is some concern that all suspect cases are not truly Ebola).

In recent years, in the wake of the horrific 2014 West African Ebola outbreak, new tools and strategies have been formulated and refined including a vaccine, a concept-of-operations for vaccination, and enhanced supportive care (not to mention the rapid involvement of WHO for technical assistance). 

In the coming days, as the outbreak unfolds and case numbers change it will be important to see if, in addition to the tried-and-true measures of case finding, isolation, and body fluid protection, the Merck vaccine (or others) is used to accelerate the control of this outbreak. Currently, a GAVI stockpile of 300,000 doses of the Merck vaccine stands at the ready.

Emerging infectious diseases, exemplified by Ebola, will continue to plague the human race and it is only by continually improving our response efforts through science and preparedness that they can be beaten back.