A woman waits in a Liberian Ministry of Health ambulance outside an old hospital that's been converted to an intake center for Ebola patients in Monrovia. (Michel du Cille/The Washington Post)

Well before the Ebola virus was brought to the U.S. by a man traveling from Liberia, it was wreaking havoc in the West African country, where nearly 2,000 people have died during the worst Ebola outbreak in history. Now, some doctors in that country are trying new ways of treating Ebola-infected patients.

Gorbee Logan, a doctor in rural Liberia, has given at least 15 Ebola patients lamivudine, which is considered a long-term and effective drug to treat HIV patients. All but two of them survived, Logan told CNN last week.

Since that interview, Logan has been in contact with Anthony S. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, about the treatment. "I can't say it's a good idea or bad idea," Fauci told The Post this week. "It's one of those things where you're in a situation where you have no therapy, so you look for things that might be available."

Fauci said National Institutes of Health researchers have tested lamivudine's reaction to Ebola in test tubes. There was no response; but Fauci said researchers will adjust some levels and try it again "to see if there's even slight activity against Ebola."

If there is, he said, NIH would consider going to the trial stage.

Logan first tried another HIV drug on an Ebola patient, but it didn't seem to work, he told CNN. Then, he gave lamivudine to a health-care worker who'd become sick. The patient improved within a couple of days, CNN reported.

It makes sense to consider lamivudine as a potential Ebola treatment: It belongs to a group of drugs known as nucleoside analogs, which interfere with the replication processes of certain viruses, Fauci explained.

Other nucleoside analog drugs are in the pre-clinical stage of testing with animals, Fauci said. But there is a potential upshot with lamivudine that could make it stand out from the others, if it does actually work.

"It's already an approved drug that can be distributed," Fauci said. "But that's a big, majestic leap."

Logan told FrontPageAfrica that his method works only if Ebola patients come in soon after becoming symptomatic. He said desperation pushed him to treat Ebola patients using several different medications. Lamivudine can cause liver damage, he acknowledged.

Comfort Mensa died outside the JFK Medical Center in Monrovia, Liberia amid confusion regarding her diagnosis. While Ebola health workers decontaminated her body, Doe's family maintained she died from complications of diabetes. (Ashoka Mukpo and Divya Jeswani Verma/The Washington Post)

For the drug to be considered an effective Ebola treatment, studies involving many more patients and controls would need to be conducted to make sure it's safe to treat Ebola patients with lamivudine -- and that people are getting better from the drug and not from other factors.

But Fauci said crises such as the Ebola epidemic lead doctors to try what they can to help patients.

"Whenever you have a disease where people are frustrated with no treatment, there's always the thought of what do we already have approved that we can use," Fauci said.

Logan's frustration is clear. "Our people are dying and you're taking about studies?" he said to CNN. "It's a matter of doing all that I can do as a doctor to save some people's lives."


Sources: CDC, Doctors Without Borders, World Health Organization Graphic: Patterson Clark / The Washington Post