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A trial of brincidofovir – a potential drug to treat Ebola – has started at a Medecins Sans Frontieres center in Liberia.

The antiviral is being tested on Ebola patients on a voluntary basis. People who do not consent to it receive standard care.

Oxford University scientists leading the research say initial results are expected in the next few months.

A study involving a similar drug – favipiravir – began in Guinea in December.

More than 8,000 people have died from Ebola during this outbreak, the majority in the worst-affected countries of Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia.

While a handful of experimental drugs, including brincidofovir and favipiravir, have been given on an ad hoc, compassionate basis in the last year, none has yet been proven to work against the virus in scientific human trials.

A huge international effort – involving the WHO, MSF, drug companies, the Wellcome Trust, and other global health organizations – aims to fast-track treatments that have been identified as potential options.

Prof. Peter Horby, one of the chief investigators at Oxford University, said: “Conducting clinical trials of investigational drugs in the midst of a humanitarian crisis is a new experience for us all, but we are determined not to fail the people of West Africa.

“We are trying a number of different approaches simultaneously as there is only a short window of opportunity to tackle this virus during the outbreak.”Ebola drug brincidofovir

Scientists at Oxford say brincidofovir was chosen because it is effective against Ebola-infected cells in laboratories, has been deemed safe in more than 1,000 patients in trials against other viruses and can be given conveniently as a tablet.

Researchers aim to recruit more than 100 people and will compare death rates at the centre before and after the trial.

The other antiviral drug, favipiravir, being tested by the French National Institute of Health, is already used to treat influenza.

It is offered to all patients who receive care at the MSF treatment centre in Gueckedou, Guinea, and early results are expected in a few months’ time.

Scientists are testing other drugs and treatments.

Oxford University and the company Tekmira hope to establish a further study of a potential treatment which aims to interrupt the genetic code of the virus called TKM-Ebola.

Another approach is to use blood plasma from patients who have recovered from the disease. Trials of this are under way in Guinea’s capital, led by the Antwerp Institute of Tropical Medicine. This treatment is also being given to the British nurse Pauline Cafferkey in hospital in London.

And trials involving three separate vaccines designed to prevent people from getting the disease, are taking place in Switzerland, UK, US and Mali.

While a number of different pharmaceutical attempts are being made to tackle the Ebola virus, experts say other strategies – including early and adequate hydration and nutrition – are extremely important.

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Medecins Sans Frontieres reports hospitals it supports in Syria treated about 3,600 patients with “neurotoxic symptoms”, of whom 355 have died.

MSF said the patients had arrived in three hospitals in the Damascus governorate on August 21 – when opposition activists say chemical attacks were launched against rebels.

But MSF says it cannot “scientifically confirm” the use of chemical weapons.

Both sides in the conflict accuse each other of using them.

MSF says staff at the hospitals described a large number of patients arriving in the space of less than three hours with symptoms including convulsions, extreme salivation, contracted pupils and sight and respiratory problems.

The charity said many were treated with atropine, a drug administered to those with “neurotoxic symptoms”.

Medecins Sans Frontieres reports hospitals it supports in Syria treated about 3,600 patients with neurotoxic symptoms

Medecins Sans Frontieres reports hospitals it supports in Syria treated about 3,600 patients with neurotoxic symptoms

“MSF can neither scientifically confirm the cause of these symptoms nor establish who is responsible for the attack,” said MSF Director of Operations Bart Janssens.

“However, the reported symptoms of the patients, in addition to the epidemiological pattern of the events, characterized by the massive influx of patients in a short period of time, the origin of the patients, and the contamination of medical and first aid workers, strongly indicate mass exposure to a neurotoxic agent.

“This would constitute a violation of international humanitarian law, which absolutely prohibits the use of chemical and biological weapons.”

The opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights has given its latest assessment of the number of casualties from the alleged attacks.

The British-based group said it estimated that 322 had died, 54 of them children.

In the immediate aftermath, casualty figures varied widely with opposition activists saying between several hundred and more than 1,000 had been killed.

MSF’s disclosure adds to mounting allegations that chemical weapons were used in suburbs to the east of Damascus and in an area to the south-west on August 21.

Unverified video footage posted soon afterwards shows civilians, many of them children, dead or suffering from what appear to be horrific symptoms consistent with a chemical attack.

Rebels and opposition activists accuse forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad of carrying out such attacks.

But state TV accuses the rebels, saying barrels of chemical weapons were found as troops entered previously rebel-held districts.

Soldiers had “suffocated” as they tried to enter Jobar, one of the towns in the Ghouta district around Damascus.