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International Medical Corps-Backed Research Sheds New Light On Ebola Treatment

July 17th 2019

Early treatment of Ebola patients with vitamin A supplements led to reduced mortality among those diagnosed with the deadly virus, according to an International Medical Corps-supported research study published earlier this month.

The study, which appeared in the Journal of Nutrition, was one of three such research papers published in recent months based on data from the International Medical Corps Ebola Research Project, which includes data collected from more than 2,500 patient admissions to the five Ebola treatment centres (ETCs) managed by International Medical Corps in Liberia and Sierra Leone during the 2014–2016 West African outbreak of Ebola Virus Disease (EVD)—the largest-ever such epidemic.

The vitamin A study drew on data analysed from 424 patients with confirmed EVD at International Medical Corps ETCs in Liberia and Sierra Leone. Nearly three-quarters (71.9%) of the patients who did not receive vitamin A died, compared to just about half (55%) of the patients treated with vitamin A soon after their admission. After controlling for other factors that may have affected mortality, early Vitamin A supplementation was found to decrease the risk of death in patients with EVD by 23%.

“The results actually show a decrease in mortality when patients were given vitamin A,” noted the study’s principal author, Dr Adam Levine, lead researcher of the study and director of the Ebola Research Project. “We believe such treatment deserves further study and should be prioritised for use in future epidemics.”

Results of a second study published by the Infectious Diseases Society of America (ISDA) journal, Clinical Infectious Diseases, in early May, showed that intravenous fluids (IVF), another frequently recommended treatment for patients with EVD, made “no significant difference” on patient survival after controlling for other factors.

“There were hints that high volumes of IVF could actually increase mortality, similar to what we’ve seen in studies of patients with sepsis and HIV in Africa, so these findings may be practice-changing as well,” Dr Levine noted.

A third study, also published by the ISDA, assessed the effects of the commonly used anti-malarial drug artesunate-amodiaquine—also known as ASAQ—in reducing mortality among EVD patients. It found some reduction in mortality, but not enough to be statistically significant.

The three studies come amid mounting concern about a stubborn year-old outbreak of Ebola in the Democratic Republic of the Congo that has more 2,500 confirmed and probable cases and caused more than 1,600 deaths.

“These studies illustrate the importance of conducting high-quality research during epidemics and other humanitarian emergencies so that we can have actual evidence to guide care in future emergencies,” said Dr Levine.

Including these three, data from the International Medical Corps Ebola Research Project has led to some 20 research studies and a detailed final report, all tied to the 2014–2016 West African Ebola outbreak.