There is no vaccine or proven treatment for patients stricken with Ebola, but two ailing Americans who were infected with the deadly virus while working in the West African nation of Liberia have become test subjects for an experimental serum that they received with the help of two U.S. health agencies.
In a rare move, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health played an informal role in connecting the Christian aid group Samaritan's Purse to Mapp Biopharmaceutical Inc., the San Diego pharmaceutical firm that developed the treatment.
The drug, called Zmapp, had never been tested in humans, according to a company statement released Monday.
Only three doses of the serum had been produced, said Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. Two of those doses were provided to the American patients, Dr. Kent Brantly and missionary Nancy Writebol.
"This was the first time it was put into humans, because all the previous work was done on animals and the results had been encouraging," Fauci said.
Details about the serum emerged as a New York hospital performed tests on a patient with a possible Ebola infection and the World Health Organization said the virus had now claimed at least 887 lives in Africa, including 61 deaths in just two days.
Brantly, who was working in Africa under the auspices of Samaritan's Purse, became the first confirmed Ebola patient to be treated on American soil when he was admitted to Emory University Hospital in Atlanta on Saturday. Writebol is expected to join him there Tuesday after being flown from Liberia in a specially outfitted air ambulance.