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Against all odds, 2020 had good health news

The year will not be remembered as good for human health. But some notable bright spots shone.

The Ebola outbreak ends

The second largest Ebola outbreak in history has officially ended. As of 2018, the virus has emerged in eastern Congo, infecting 3,470 people and killing approximately two-thirds of them (SN online: 06/25/20). The outbreak was declared done in June thanks to an aggressive public health response involving testing, isolation of sick people and monitoring of contacts, the same measures that could slow the spread of COVID-19.

A man receives the Ebola vaccine in the village of Bosolo, Congo.L. Mackenzie / WHO

A vaccine, delivered to more than 300,000 people during the outbreak, and experimental drugs also helped. On October 14, an antibody-based treatment, Inmazeb, became the first Ebola drug approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (SN Online: 10/15/20). With that approval, U.S. drug supplies may be more available to Ebola patients. (The drug maker, Regeneron Pharmaceuticals, is a major donor to the Society for Science & the Public, which publishes Science News).

Elite HIV drivers

Most people with HIV take antiretroviral drugs to control the virus. But in a rare person, the immune system seems to have wiped out the virus on its own. Among the more than 1.5 billion blood cells extracted from this infected person, not a single working copy of HIV appeared (SN: 26/09/20, p. 6). In another patient, the researchers found only one functional copy of HIV in more than a billion blood cells. Learning how these people, who are part of a select group called elite drivers, fought HIV can lead to better treatments for others.

HIV emerges from a human cellPeople called elite drivers seem to be able to keep HIV at undetectable levels without treatment. This electron micrograph shows viruses (green) that arise from a human cell.C. GOLDSMITH, P. FEORINO, E.L. PALMER, W.R. MCMANUS / CDC

Protection against peanut allergy

In January, the FDA approved the first drug to curb peanut allergies in children and adolescents (SN: 29/02/20, p. 16). Called Palforzia, the drug contains peanut protein and is given in increasing amounts, so the body is gradually learning that these proteins are not dangerous. The drug does not eliminate peanut allergies, but it can help people tolerate an accidental encounter with peanuts.

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