Ebola and Marburg Filovirus

Ebola and Marburg are severe and often fatal illnesses caused by filoviruses. The impacts of these diseases can be devastating not only on health but on society as well. Low- and middle-income countries, which wrestle with numerous challenges already, particularly suffer from filovirus outbreaks.

The Start of an Outbreak

The start of an outbreak is often due to a spillover event, when the filovirus jumps from an animal host to a human through bodily fluid, feces, or the consumption of bushmeat. The Kitaka mine in West Uganda, where two Marburg outbreaks broke out and killed 17 individuals, contained 40,000 to 100,000 fruit bats. Its miners, who were frequently exposed to the bats and the guano, were found to be 5 times more likely to contact filovirus than a control group from central Uganda.

The Zaire Ebola virus has caused most outbreaks historically, with the devastating 2013 to 2016 epidemic in West Africa resulting in approximately 29,000 cases and 11,300 deaths⁹. Schools were closed, which held back the education of 5 million children and teenagers; agricultural production became scarce, exposing nearly a million people to hunger and food insecurity; residents in West Africa lived in fear, shame, and guilt as the epidemic swept across communities.

Addressing Ebola and Emerging Filovirus Challenges: A Global Perspective

This outbreak also required massive global intervention. The United States, the United Kingdom, and Germany together spent over $3.6 billion on the Ebola response. Additionally, more than 5,000 troops from six countries were deployed to contain the outbreak. The World Health Organization, Doctors Without Borders, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) all contributed substantial humanitarian and medical efforts in West Africa. In fact, the CDC trained over 24,000 local healthcare workers on infection prevention and control practices.

More recently, the reemergence of Zaire Ebola in Guinea and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), as well as the Sudan Ebola strain in Uganda, underscores the continued need for effective vaccines⁹. Likewise, the Marburg virus, which is a filovirus very similar to Ebola, has been responsible for several outbreaks, with a recent one in Equatorial Guinea causing at least nine deaths.

Enhancing Vaccine Accessibility: Innovations for Ebola and Marburg in Equatorial Africa

The current vaccines for Zaire Ebola require strict cold chain handling. This leaves an opportunity for a temperature stable vaccine to be introduced that is as effective and will stay effective over the course of the journey to, and storage in, equatorial Africa.

As for Marburg, there are currently no approved vaccines or specific therapies available. While some experimental vaccines have been tested, none have proven to provide both potent and durable protection.

This highlights the inadequacy of the current vaccines and the urgent need for more research and development in this area.

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