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Malaria infection boosts Ebola survival rates

Things have quietened down compared with this time last year. However, the risk of a repeat Ebola outbreak in West Africa (or another territory remains). Research continues into Ebola treatments and vaccines; meanwhile other medical research is looking into the nature of the virus and to understand why a few people survive and the majority do not.

Ebola virus disease describes the human disease which is caused by any of four of five known Ebola viruses. The name of this grouping comes from Ebola River in Republic of the Congo. After an incubation time lasting for twenty-one days, one common signs of the disease is bleeding from mucous membranes and puncture sites. If the infected person does not recover, death due to multiple organ dysfunction syndrome occurs.

An inquiry into Ebola has discovered that those infected with Ebola virus were 20 percent more likely to survive if they were co-infected with malaria (that is with the presence of the Plasmodium parasites in their blood). This is based on research collated at an Ebola diagnostic laboratory in Liberia.

The relationship between Ebola and malaria is that the higher numbers of Plasmodium parasites present, then the greater the chance of Ebola survival. Factors that did not affect survival were the Ebola viral load or the age of the patient.

The research from Liberia has been reviewed by the U.S. National Institute of Health and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This was based on an examination of some 1,868 blood samples.

With 1,182 of the samples Ebola virus was detected and in 185 samples the malaria parasite was found. 58 percent of subjects with both infections survived, compared to 46 percent who were infected with Ebola virus alone. Of those with the highest Plasmodium levels, 83 percent survived.

The reasons for this are not yet clear and require further research. One unlikely factor is the type of anti-malarial drug for there was no correlation with Ebola survival rates.

The research is published in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases. The research paper is titled “Plasmodium parasitemia associated with increased survival in Ebola virus-infected patients.”

Written By

Dr. Tim Sandle is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for science news. Tim specializes in science, technology, environmental, and health journalism. He is additionally a practising microbiologist; and an author. He is also interested in history, politics and current affairs.

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