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General News of Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Source: bbc.com

Emergency Ebola summit under way

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Global health experts at the World Health Organization are meeting to discuss new measures to tackle the Ebola outbreak.

The meeting - being held in Geneva, Switzerland - is expected to last two days and will decide whether to declare a global health emergency.

That could involve imposing travel restrictions on affected areas.

The outbreak began last February and has since spread to four African countries, claiming nearly 900 lives.

It comes as leading infectious disease experts have called for experimental treatments to be offered more widely.

Two US aid workers who contracted Ebola in Liberia appear to be improving after receiving an unapproved medicine before being evacuated back to the US.

But it is not clear if the ZMapp drug, which has only been tested on monkeys, can be credited with their improvement.

Map showing Ebola outbreaks since 1976

Prof Peter Piot, who co-discovered Ebola in 1976, Prof David Heymann, the head of the Centre on Global Health Security, and Wellcome Trust director Prof Jeremy Farrar said there were several drugs and vaccines under study for possible use against Ebola.

"African governments should be allowed to make informed decisions about whether or not to use these products - for example to protect and treat healthcare workers who run especially high risks of infection," they wrote in a joint statement.

The World Health Organization (WHO), "the only body with the necessary international authority" to allow such experimental treatments, "must take on this greater leadership role", they said.

"These dire circumstances call for a more robust international response," they added.

Graph showing Ebola deaths since 1976

The WHO meeting involves the organisation's emergency committee and is solely focusing on how to respond to the Ebola outbreak.

If a public health emergency is declared it could also involve detailed plans and efforts to identify, isolate and treat cases.

A WHO spokesman said: "We can't speculate in advance what the committee members are going to decide in advance."

In the meantime, the World Bank is allocating $200m (£120m) in emergency assistance for countries battling to contain the Ebola outbreak.

It is the world's deadliest outbreak to date and has centred on Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. There have also been two cases in the Nigerian city of Lagos, where eight people are currently in quarantine.

British Airways has temporarily suspended flights to and from Liberia and Sierra Leone until 31 August because of the health crisis, the airline said in a statement. It follows a similar suspension by two regional air carriers last week.

The virus spreads by contact with infected blood and bodily fluids. The current outbreak is killing between 50% and 60% of people infected.

There is no cure or vaccine for Ebola - but patients have a better chance of survival if they receive early treatment.

Ebola has initial flu-like symptoms that can lead to external haemorrhaging from areas like eyes and gums, and internal bleeding which can lead to organ failure.

Symptoms include high fever, bleeding and central nervous system damage

Fatality rate can reach 90% - but the current outbreak is about 55%

Incubation period is two to 21 days

There is no vaccine or cure

Supportive care such as rehydrating patients who have diarrhoea and vomiting can help recovery

Fruit bats are considered to be virus' natural host

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