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US fast-tracks Ebola vaccine trials as outbreak spreads

NIH brings forward human trials as concerns mount

Ebola World Health Organization WHO
Ebola is a complicated disease to treat because it's rare, contagious and deadly

The US National Institutes of Health (NIH) is bringing forward human trials of a vaccine against Ebola to September as concerns about the spread of the disease grow.

The vaccine has been in trials for several years and has shown encouraging results in primates, according to National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) director Anthony Fauci, who said that if all goes well it could be made available to front-line emergency workers early next year.

The NIH's lead candidate is based on an inactivated carrier virus carrying a gene that codes for an Ebola virus glycoprotein.

At the moment there is no recognised treatment for Ebola infection, and patients can only be treated with supportive care as their bodies try to fight off the infection.

News of the vaccine plan came shortly before the US issued non-essential travel warnings for Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, the three countries hit hardest by the current Ebola outbreak, as concern about its scale grows.

The outbreak is historically unprecedented, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), which said yesterday there have been approximately 1,323 confirmed and suspected cases reported, and 729 deaths in the three West African nations since March 2014.

The disease - which is spread by close contact and can take between two and 21 days to incubate - causes high fever, bleeding and central nervous system damage and has a fatality rate of up to 90 per cent.

Some scientists have suggested that the viral strain involved in the current outbreak has a longer-than-usual incubation time, which could allow those exposed to spread it more widely before being placed under quarantine.

The WHO and leaders of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone have just announced a $100m response plan designed to ramp up the response to the disease and try to contain its spread.

"The scale of the Ebola outbreak, and the persistent threat it poses, requires WHO and Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone to take the response to a new level," said WHO Director-General Margaret Chan yesterday.

"This will require increased resources, in-country medical expertise, regional preparedness and coordination," she added, noting that the funds would allow several more hundred personnel to be deployed to the affected areas, including clinical doctors and nurses, epidemiologists, social mobilisation experts, logisticians and data managers.

Article by
Phil Taylor

1st August 2014

From: Research, Healthcare

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