WHO Supports Blood Transfusions to Fight Ebola

Ebola treatments and vaccines needed as outbreak continues to grow

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Health officials are looking for ways to curb the spread of Ebola as the outbreak in West Africa worsens. Experts gathered by the World Health Organization (WHO) have recommended that researchers focus on some specific vaccines and treatments.

WHO has identified two promising vaccines that may protect against Ebola. But those vaccines will not be ready until at least November. On top of that, supplies of potential treatments for Ebola are small and likely won't be available until next year.

In light of these limitations, WHO is supporting the use of blood transfusions to treat people infected with the Ebola virus.

"Stay informed about the current Ebola outbreak in West Africa."

"One of the things driving fear and panic in communities — and the world — is the belief that there is no treatment for Ebola Virus disease," said Dr. Marie-Paule Kieny, a WHO assistant director-general. "However, tremendous work has been done to accelerate our knowledge of potential Ebola interventions and furnish us with some promising tools."

Blood transfusion may be one such tool.

In a blood transfusion, blood serum is taken from a person who has survived Ebola. That serum contains antibodies that helped fight off the virus. If the serum is then injected into an infected person, those same antibodies can help the patient fight off the disease.

Both blood transfusions and experimental medicines such as ZMapp have already been used to treat patients in the current outbreak.

Dr. Kent Brantly, a US aid worker who was infected in Liberia, was treated with a blood transfusion from a boy who recovered from Ebola. Dr. Brantly and his fellow aid worker Nancy Writebol, who was also infected with Ebola, received ZMapp as well.

Dr. Rick Sacra, the third US aid worker with Ebola, is being treated with another experimental medicine. According to his doctors, Dr. Sacra seems to have improved, but it's still too early to tell if he will fully recover.

Vaccines also could be crucial tools.

"Two promising vaccine candidates were identified," Dr. Kieny said. "One is called Chimpanzee Adenovirus-Ebola and the other one, VSV-EBOLA. Safety studies are currently underway in the United States of America and soon to start in Europe and Africa."

Until these safety studies are finished, it remains unclear whether these vaccines and medicines are safe in humans, WHO said in a press statement. The lack of safety data raises the potential for negative side effects in people who receive the products, the UN health agency said.

WHO experts said that people who receive these treatments and the location and design of the studies should be based on "the aim to learn as much as we can as fast as we can without compromising patient care or health worker safety."

Review Date: 
September 8, 2014
Last Updated:
October 8, 2014