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There’s a Black Market in Africa for Ebola Survivors’ Blood

Using survivors’ blood is an unproven treatment option

Medical staff take a blood sample from a suspected Ebola patient at the government hospital in Kenema, July 10, 2014 (STRINGER/Reuters/Corbis)
smithsonian.com

Ebola is a disease without a cure. Getting through the infection involves, basically, waiting for your body to figure it out. It's not a promising prognosis. Yet not everyone who gets Ebola dies, and researchers with the World Health Organization think Ebola survivors might hold the key to a potential fix

As the CBC wrote earlier this month, the WHO announced that they were going to start using “whole blood therapies and convalescent serums” to treat Ebola. Survivors' blood may carry antibodies to the disease, says the Guardian, and injecting infected people with this blood could help them fight off their infections. The WHO said they could have the blood treatment ready for widespread use by the end of the year.

But some people in the Ebola stricken region aren't content to wait for the WHO. A black market has emerged, says CNN, with people taking it upon themselves to self-medicate with survivors' blood.

The treatment approach is unproven, and according to the Washington Post carries considerable risk: “[G]iving a patient someone else’s blood can cause anaphylactic shock and death or infect [them] with other diseases such as HIV if the blood is tainted.”

Not everyone who gets Ebola dies, but the lack of a proven cure changes the psychology of the disease. For the ongoing West African outbreak, the untreated mortality rate is sitting at 90 percent. With medical care, the rate drops to around 30 to 50 percent.

About Colin Schultz
Colin Schultz

Colin Schultz is a freelance science writer and editor based in Toronto, Canada. He blogs for Smart News and contributes to the American Geophysical Union. He has a B.Sc. in physical science and philosophy, and a M.A. in journalism.

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