Was ‘Ebola drugs’ given to healthy kids a lie?

By Catherine Bracy-Zane , CNN Written by Roughly nine months ago, the Ebola outbreak in West Africa drew international attention and intense research. However, almost six months after the outbreak was declared over, a…

Was 'Ebola drugs' given to healthy kids a lie?

By Catherine Bracy-Zane , CNN Written by

Roughly nine months ago, the Ebola outbreak in West Africa drew international attention and intense research. However, almost six months after the outbreak was declared over, a related and deadly virus, coronavirus, has moved in to cause widespread concern.

On Wednesday, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported that the new coronavirus, ZMapp, has given more than five children who had been treated for the virus a partial recovery.

More importantly, the WHO warned that the virus has not been found in over 600 children treated for pediatric Ebola, but has been seen in over 800 adults.

A small number of coronavirus cases were reported in Europe — but in the US, there are no confirmed cases.

‘Spurious argument’

Philippe Conti, virologist and co-author of the study, at The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, Maryland, said that two of the children who recovered have no apparent symptoms but are still being monitored.

Conti and his colleagues, led by Sharon Pratt, analyzed the last 21 days of the outbreak and reviewed the case literature for cases of ZMapp recovery in children ages 5 to 18. The researchers attempted to rule out the possibility that in some cases, the patients had acquired the infection from a pet or an animal.

He said the success of the treatment is attributable to the rapid response of the West African health care professionals in a region in turmoil.

“If we really knew what was in a placebo or a possibly infected individual’s body, then I think a whole lot more would have been done,” he said.

But Conti said the issue goes beyond drugs — “it’s really a bogus argument” he feels goes to the validity of the conclusion that children who have recovered from Ebola, like the six whose recovery was recently reviewed, can be treated with drugs commonly given to adults.

In 2016, two children were seen to have severe allergic reactions to the drugs ZMapp and Ribavirin. One child, suffering the most severe reaction to ZMapp, died, and the other is seriously ill.

Conti said the FDA is hesitant to authorize the use of drugs not specifically approved for children, which means that, for now, the only way of treating patients is by first vaccinating the population.

A new protocol is in the works, Conti said, so that smaller doses of ZMapp can be given to older children to prevent the virus from spreading through schools. Currently, he said, there are no vaccines available that can prevent the ZMapp virus, and so it is “very late in the day” to test children for the disease.

In two presentations in December 2015, scientists showed that people can spread the ZMapp virus to each other when they share medical supplies, including needles, under dry conditions. In these cases, Conti said the use of a device that disinfects needles is recommended to treat any outbreaks.

“That is very aggressive that this outbreak gets worse,” he said.

The disease is believed to be an RNA virus and can have a fever, slight respiratory symptoms and ultimately damage the lung, brain or heart.

An average of 0.5% of humans contract it in a lifetime, however, when compared to other viruses.

Small childhood numbers

Kafustin Bankevi, a professor in Public Health at the University of Geneva in Switzerland, said that although the emergence of the coronavirus in children from 11 countries indicates it must be an emerging or chronic problem, the 5 children seen at the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention between March and June 2016 was not “really huge,” and suggested that this might be an “over-reaction” to the cases.

He added that “children with this kind of virus always pick up after infections of animals — particularly horses — it is very frequent for the animals to transmit this kind of virus to humans.”

Like Conti, Bankevi said the emergence of the virus in children can be cause for concern. But he was quick to caution against “panic and panicking,” telling CNN that “there is no reason to think that as a consequence of this outbreak in the United States that there are more or more cases of (Coronavirus).”

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