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UK nurse with Ebola given new drug in London

Published on 27/08/14 at 07:36am
WHO Ebola
An Ebola patient recieves care from healthcare workers in Africa

A British nurse was this weekend flown to a London hospital and is now being given an experimental drug after contracting the Ebola disease during his time volunteering in West Africa.

William Pooley, a volunteer nurse at The Shepherd’s Hospice in Sierra Leone, is the first confirmed case of a Briton contracting the virus that has killed almost 1,500 people.

Pooley was flown to Hampstead’s Royal Free Hospital in north-west London on Sunday in a specially equipped military aircraft.

He is now receiving ZMapp, a medicine that has only been used in animal studies and manufactured by San Diego-based biotech firm Mapp.

Dr Michael Jacobs, consultant and clinical lead in infectious diseases at the London hospital, says: “We have had the opportunity to give him the ZMapp treatment that I am sure you are aware of.

“It is an experimental medicine; we made that absolutely clear in our discussions with him.”

He adds: “What has become apparent to us is that he is clearly a rather resilient and remarkable young man.”

Staff at the hospital say he was given the first dose of ZMapp on Monday and further doses were expected to be given to him ‘in due course’.

The boss of the Sierra Leone hospice where Britain's first Ebola victim had worked before he caught the disease says his former colleague is ‘optimistic’ he will be back working there soon.

Pooley is being treated in a specialist isolation unit for patients with highly infectious disease is being used to treat the Briton; the unit is believed to be the only one of its kind in Europe.

Pooley, who had been volunteering in Sierra Leone since March, requested a transfer to the Kenema Government Hospital to serve on the Ebola treatment ward after hearing reports that patients were being abandoned after a number of health workers died from the virus.

“We consider him a hero,” says Gabriel Madiye, executive director of The Shepherd’s Hospice. He says that the British man knew the risks involved but was determined to work there.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), more than 225 health workers have fallen ill and nearly 130 have died since the Ebola outbreak was detected in southeast Guniea in March.

“Will is receiving excellent care at the Royal Free Hospital and we could not ask for him to be in a better place,” says his family in a recent statement.

They also encourage people to remember those in other places of the world suffering from Ebola who do not have access to the same healthcare as Pooley.

According to the Department of Health, the decision to bring the man to the UK was taken following ‘clinical advice’.

Health officials still suggest that the risk of an Ebola outbreak in the UK still remains ‘very low’.

Treatment

With no licensed treatments or vaccines for the Ebola virus available, hospital treatment involves giving patients intravenous fluids to stop dehydration and antibiotics to fight infections.

WHO recently declared it ethical to use experimental drugs to tackle the virus when two US aid workers were recently given ZMapp, which attacks proteins on the surface of the virus.

According to Prof Tom Solomon, director of the NIHR Health Protection Research Unit in Emerging and Zoonotic infections, the treatment is ‘apparently encouraging’, although there is not yet enough data to say whether the drug is effective in humans for treating the disease.

Dr Kent Brantly and Nancy Writebol were both flown to a US hospital from Liberia to receive the experimental drug and were later discharged and cured of Ebola symptoms.

But ZMapp is not a guaranteed cure. Abraham Borbor, a doctor treating Ebola patients, recently died even though he had been given the experimental drug.

A Spanish priest treated with the drug also died this month and health officials are urging those suspected to be infected with the virus to have medical treatment as early as possible, as this is believed to help lower mortality rates.

Mapp Biopharmaceutical says it will also now need to take time to replenish its exhausted stock of the drug, with Pooley believed to be one of the last patients able to take its treatment until a new batch is sent out.

According to WHO, an estimated 2,615 people in West Africa have been infected with Ebola since March. One of the world’s deadliest diseases, Ebola has the potential to have a fatality rate of 90%, although this current epidemic appears to have a mortality far less than this.

The majority of Ebola outbreaks have occurred in remote villages in Central and West Africa with Liberia and Sierra Leone being the most infected.

Tom Robinson

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