Ebola Study Gains Momentum, Say Investigators

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Investigators of the current Liberia-US clinical research partnership (PREVAIL) study of Liberians who survived the Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) told journalists last Wednesday that the study is proceeding with ease.

Site Manager Victor Doolakeh, who conducted journalists to the various divisions, said the investigating team hopes to understand better the long-term health consequences of Ebola on survivors and also determine if survivors develop immunity that will protect them from future infections.

“We are also assessing whether previously EVD-infected individuals can transmit infection to close contacts and sexual partners,” he said.

The on-going study is taking place at the C.H. Rennie Hospital in Kakata, Duport Road Clinic in Paynesville, Redemption Hospital and the John F. K. Kennedy Medical Center. Additional sites are expected to join the study.

The study is enrolling approximately 7,500 people, including 1,500 people of any age who survived the EVD and 6,000 of their close contacts.

Study participants are undergoing medical history and physical and vision examinations and have blood samples collected so researchers can identify and track any health issues, monitor organ and ocular function and record Ebola antibody levels, Doolakeh said.

He added that some participants may also be asked to provide samples of body fluids, such as sweat, tears, and for adults, semen or cervical secretions. Participants will be asked to identify up to five close contacts (household members at the time of Ebola diagnosis and sexual partners after recovery from Ebola virus disease).”

The Daily Observer learned that close contacts who agree to participate in the study will undergo a physical examination, have blood samples taken, and will be asked to complete a questionnaire detailing their contact with Ebola survivor(s), such as touching, sleeping in the same bed and sexual intercourse.

Helping the process are staff from the NIH’s National Eye Institute that have establish a new eye clinic where ophthalmologists from NEI and Johns Hopkins Medical Center in Maryland, USA are evaluating study participants and their identified close contacts for visual problems, doctors said.

The best part, the tour revealed, is that treatment is provided by Liberian ophthalmologists, partnering in the study with state of the art medical equipment.

Principal Investigator, Dr. Mosaka Fallah, who also spoke to journalists during the tour, is working along Michael C. Sneller, M.D., from NIAID’s Laboratory of Immuno regulation; and Desmond Williams, M.D., Ph.D., from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and many others.

Investigators from the US National Eye Institute, the Johns Hopkins University Wilmer Eye Institute, Baltimore; the Ministry of Health and the John F. Kennedy Medical Center are also collaborating on the research.

Enrollment which began in the middle of June is gaining momentum, our reporter was told at the John F. Kennedy Medical Center in Sinkor, Monrovia.

During the study, participants who test positive for HIV infection will be counseled and referred to treatment in accordance with standard medical practice in Liberia.

Doctors said the research team will follow the Ebola survivors and their close contacts for up to five years with study visits occurring every six months.

At each follow-up visit, participants will undergo a physical examination and additional blood draws, to allow study physicians to monitor and characterize any changes in Ebola antibody levels and to detect the presence of select medical conditions, he noted.

This information will help scientists determine the evolution of Ebola antibodies and will provide insight on whether survivors can still transmit the virus and if so, whether these people get sick with Ebola virus disease.

Using data collected at these site visits, the researchers will calculate the incidence, prevalence and risk factors for various health issues experienced by survivors, such as vision problems; immune system changes; mental disorders; joint pain; diabetes; hypertension; and pregnancy complications.

Close contacts will be used as a control group to assess whether the risks of these conditions are the same or different from those who have not had Ebola virus disease.

Dr. Fallah said Liberia’s involvement demonstrates the search for the solution for such a global epidemic so that the world would be safer and be able to contribute to better living.

PREVAIL, or the Partnership for Research on Ebola Virus in Liberia, is a clinical research partnership between the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Liberian Ministry of Health. The new study, an Ebola natural history study known as PREVAIL III, is one of three research projects launched by the partnership.

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