Dakar - A new study provides strong evidence that the experimental drug given to two American aid workers stricken with Ebola in Africa really works and could make a difference in the current outbreak - if more of it could be produced.
The encouraging results came as the epidemic spread to a fifth country in West Africa, with the first confirmed case of the deadly virus in Senegal. Over 1,500 people had been confirmed dead from Ebola in four countries - Sierra Leone, Liberia, Guinea and Nigeria.
The Senegal case marks the first time a new country has been hit by the outbreak since July and comes on the heels of the World Health Organisation's warning that the number of infections was increasing rapidly.
Scientists meanwhile said the first human trials of a potential vaccine would start this week using a product made by pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline and the United States government.
On Friday, scientists writing in the journal Nature said 18 lab monkeys given high doses of the Ebola virus fully recovered after being given the prototype drug ZMapp, which reversed bleeding in the animals. Other symptoms, such as rashes and signs of liver toxicity, eventually disappeared.
By contrast, all three monkeys in the control group died. Dr Gary Kobinger, the senior author of the study, said the success in monkeys "strongly supports", though it is not proof, that the drug will work in people.
The problem is that the supply of ZMapp is exhausted, according to Mapp Biopharmaceutical, the nine-person San Diego company that is developing the drug. And it is expected to take months to make even modest amounts of the new drug, making it somewhat unlikely that ZMapp could help many of the thousands of people being infected in the current outbreak.
New York Times, AFP