Viral Blood Levels Could Predict Ebola Outcomes

Ebola patients with high levels of viremia may be at increased risk

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Jennifer Gershman, PharmD, CPh

(RxWiki News) A new discovery may have given scientists a glimpse into the mechanisms behind Ebola.

In a new study, researchers from France, Senegal, Guinea and Canada found that the level of virus present in the blood, also known as viremia, may be a strong predictor of the likelihood of mortality in Ebola patients.

Ebola is a viral infection that causes symptoms like high fever, nausea, vomiting and unexplained bleeding. It is spread via direct contact with the blood or other bodily fluids of an infected person. Surfaces and materials like bedding can also become contaminated.

Ebola infection is often fatal. Supportive care and treatment of specific symptoms can improve the chances of survival, however.

Walker Winn, PharmD, told RxWiki News a little more about the importance of this finding.

"Before this study was organized, there was less information available on how to assess disease severity and predict death rates in people with Ebola," Dr. Winn said. "For people at risk for contracting Ebola, these findings mean that clinicians will now potentially be able to more quickly assess the severity of new Ebola cases and more efficiently coordinate appropriate treatment measures."

For this study, a team led by Amadou Alpha Sall, PhD, and Simon Cauchemez, PhD, both of the Pasteur Institute, looked at 699 patients with confirmed Ebola who were hospitalized between March 2014 and February 2015 in Guinea. In particular, these researchers looked at case fatality ratio (CFR), or the rate of deaths to total cases.

They found that as viremia increased, so did CFR. For patients with low, intermediate and high viremia, CFR was 21, 53 and 81 percent, respectively.

Compared to patients ages 15 to 44, patients younger than 5 and older than 45 had higher CFR. Patients ages 5 to 14 had lower CFR. When the average viremia increased tenfold in July 2014 during the West African Ebola outbreak, CFR also increased by 14 percent.

By better understanding the relationship between viremia and CFR, researchers will be able to more accurately assess the effectiveness of new Ebola treatments, Drs. Sall and Cauchemez said. The sample size needed for future trials could also potentially be reduced by 25 percent.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), although there is currently no vaccine available for Ebola, two potential candidates are undergoing evaluation.

This study was published Dec. 1 in the journal PLOS Medicine.

The French government, the AXA Research Fund, the European Union Seventh Framework and others funded this research.

No conflicts of interest were disclosed.

Review Date: 
December 2, 2015
Last Updated:
December 3, 2015