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Experimental drug may have saved US Ebola victims

© AFP, Joni Byker | US health worker Kent Brantly in Liberia, 2014

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2014-08-06

Two American aid workers rushed back to the US after contracting the Ebola virus have responded positively to an experimental drug developed in a government and military research programme.

The workers, Nancy Writebol and Dr. Kent Brantly, are improving, according to medical sources widely quoted in the US media.

At this stage it remains impossible to know whether the new treatment, called ZMapp, is the reason for their improvement or if they are recovering on their own, as others who have survived Ebola have done.

Brantly is currently at a special isolation unit at Atlanta’s Emory University Hospital, and Writebol was being flown there Tuesday in the same specially equipped plane that brought Brantly.

British Airways halts flights to Liberia, Sierra Leone

British Airways has suspended flights to and from Liberia and Sierra Leone until the end of the month due to public health concerns, the airline owned by International Airlines Group said on Tuesday.

"We have temporarily suspended our flights to and from Liberia and Sierra Leone until 31 August 2014 due to the deteriorating public health situation in both countries," BA said in a statement.


They were infected while working in Liberia, one of four West African nations dealing with the world’s largest Ebola outbreak.

On Monday, the World Health Organization said the death toll had increased from 729 to 887 deaths in Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia and Nigeria, and that more than 1,600 people have been infected.

There is no vaccine or specific treatment for Ebola, but several, including ZMapp, are under development.

‘Increasing production as soon as possible’

The experimental treatment is made by Mapp Biopharmaceutical Inc. of San Diego.

It is aimed at boosting the immune system’s efforts to fight off Ebola and is made from antibodies produced by laboratory mice exposed to the virus.

In a statement, the company said it was working with LeafBio of San Diego, Defyrus Inc. of Toronto, the US government and the Public Health Agency of Canada on development of the drug, which was identified as a possible treatment in January.

The statement says very little of the drug is available and they are “cooperating with appropriate government agencies to increase production as quickly as possible”.

Both treated while in Liberia

The US Food and Drug Administration must grant permission to use experimental treatments in the United States, but the FDA does not have authority over the use of such a drug in other countries.

The aid workers were first treated in Liberia. An FDA spokeswoman said she could not confirm or deny FDA granting access to any experimental therapy for the aid workers while in the US. Writebol, 59, has been in isolation at her home in Liberia since she was diagnosed last month.

She’s now walking with assistance and has regained her appetite, said Bruce Johnson, president of SIM USA, the group she works for in Africa. Writebol received two doses of the experimental treatment while in Liberia.

Johnson was hesitant to credit the treatment for her improvement.

“Ebola is a tricky virus and one day you can be up and the next day down. One day is not indicative of the outcome,” he said. But “we’re grateful this medicine was available.”

Brantly, 33, who works for the international relief group Samaritan’s Purse, was also said to be improving.

Besides the experimental dose he got in Liberia, he also received a unit of blood from a 14-year-old boy, an Ebola survivor, who had been under his care. That seems to be aimed at giving Brantly antibodies the boy may have made to the virus.

(FRANCE 24 with AP)

Date created : 2014-08-05


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