(Reuters) After nearly a week in hospital, the first Ebola patient diagnosed in the United States began to receive an experimental therapy initially developed to treat other viral diseases, according to the Dallas hospital where he lies in critical condition.
Federal health officials had said for days that the family of the Liberian man, Thomas Eric Duncan, had been told about experimental therapies to treat the deadly virus. As recently as Sunday, they said they were unaware whether or not Duncan, who fell ill about a week after arriving in Texas from Liberia on Sept. 20, was receiving any.
On Monday, however, a spokeswoman for Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital said Duncan began receiving a drug called brincidofovir, made by Durham, North Carolina-based Chimerix Inc, on Saturday afternoon. The drug, which comes in tablet form, has never been tested on laboratory animals infected with Ebola let alone in human Ebola patients.
Questions had been raised on social media about why Duncan had not received experimental treatments after he was admitted to the hospital on Sept. 28. Medical experts said the choice of the Chimerix drug may have been influenced both by the deterioration in Duncan’s condition and the therapy’s safety profile.
“When a patient becomes sick enough, there may be a feeling of, ‘should we give it a shot?’,” said bioethicist Dr. Kevin Donovan of Georgetown University Medical Center. “This alone may have tilted them toward using it, rather than having him die ‘untreated.'”
At least three other Ebola patients flown to the United States from countries in West Africa where the virus has killed more than 3,400 people received experimental drugs.
The patients included two U.S. aid workers treated at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta, Georgia, who received Mapp Biopharmaceutical’s ZMapp in July and August. A third U.S. aid worker treated Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha, who received Tekmira Pharmaceutical’s TKM-Ebola last month.
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