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Questions Raised By Response To Deadly Ebola Outbreak

OPB | Aug. 13, 2014 12:06 p.m. | Updated: Aug. 13, 2014 2:41 p.m.

The number of people killed in the Ebola outbreak in West Africa has reached 1,000. The World Health Organization recently characterized the epidemic as a “global health emergency,” and this week declared that it was ethical to use experimental drugs  — even those not previously tested on humans — to treat Ebola. A scarce experimental drug called ZMapp is believed to have saved the life of at least one American missionary who contracted the disease.

Bill Messer is a physician and scientist specializing in infectious diseases at Oregon Health and Science University. He says the lack of widely available drugs to treat or prevent Ebola is not surprising. He says although Ebola is deadly (up to a 90% mortality rate) the raw numbers of deaths don’t compare to those from HIV, malaria or influenza. He’s concerned a focus on experimental drugs — which are extremely scarce — could have counterproductive effects and take the focus off the boots-on-the-ground response that’s needed to contain the outbreak. 

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