Experts say they are making progress in the battle against the horrifying Ebola virus with a congress here told that a vaccine could be ready in five years.

Scientists also told the first world congress on the Ebola and related Marburg virus to be held in Africa that the fruit bat is probably the main carrier of the viruses though it never falls victim to the disease.

Ebola and Marburg, which both cause agonising haemorrhagic fevers and severe internal bleeding, are estimated to have killed between 600 and 2,500 people since they first emerged in the mid-1970s.

Experts at the weeklong conference which ended Friday said that Ebola could become more widespread unless more resources are put into the fight to eradicate it.

Boston University researcher Thomas Geisbert said vaccines against Ebola and Marburg could be developed within "four, five or six years". He said shots that work on monkeys have been developed.

Much attention has also been put on the role of the fruit bat in spreading the highly contagious virus.

Xavier Pourrut of the Franceville International Centre for Medical Research described the fruit bat as a "natural reservoir" for Ebola and Marburg.

The fruit bat carries the virus without being infected and can spread it to other animals or humans, a discovery which should help protect populations, experts said.

Pierre Formenty, a World Health Organisation expert, said: "In the long term we'll work on understanding the immune systems that allow them (bats) to survive the infection" adding this could pave the path for more effective vaccines and treatments.

Formenty said "we cannot eradicate Ebola and Marburg, but there are solutions so that we can live with it."

Ebola can be contained if people are well informed and hospitals take preventive measures.

But the experts said more research money needs to be spent on Ebola and Marburg.

"Malaria, tuberculosis and AIDS kill more people. Malaria kills 1,000 children every day," Formenty said, warning that if Ebola and Marburg are ignored, there could be more outbreaks and the viruses could become stronger.

"In the 1960s AIDS was only an emerging virus." he said.

LIBREVILLE, March 29, 2008 (AFP)


Post a comment