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Did Ebola Vaccine Protect German Researcher?

By KJ Mullins     Apr 3, 2009 in Health
Three weeks after accidentally being exposed to the Ebola virus a German researcher is considered in the clear. The scientist had nicked herself with a needle containing the lethal virus.
On March 12 the virologist at Bernhard Nocht Institute for Tropical Medicine in Hamburg, Germany accidentally jabbed herself with a syringe containing the virus while studying new tests for the virus infection with mice.
As soon as the woman reported the incident she was taken to hospital and placed into an isolated room. Visitors by doctors and nurses were conducted with extreme caution and protective clothing.
Ebola hemorrhagic fever kills up to 90 percent of its victims. The symptoms are fever, body aches, diarrhea, vomiting, red eyes, and internal and external bleeding.
Stephan Gunther, head of the Bernhard Nocht Institute for Tropical Medicine's virology department, discussed the cases that evening with scientists from Canada and the United States. Together it was decided that a vaccine that had promising results in monkeys should be used on the woman. Within two days of the needle accident the woman received the vaccine from Winnipeg's National Microbiology Lab.
The process for human trials of the vaccine could take years even though the researchers working at the Zoonotic Diseases and Special Pathogens at the Level 4 virus lab were confident that it would work on humans.
The Toronto Star reports:
[quote"We all perceived it to be a high enough risk to recommend the vaccine," Harvey Artsob, director of the Winnipeg lab said.
"The Winnipeg one was specifically targeted, so we were asked if we would supply the vaccine," Artsob said. It was sent on ice via Fed-Ex and arrived in time for the woman to be vaccinated two days after the possible exposure.
The woman came down with a fever fourteen hours after the vaccine.
Scientific American reports:
"At that moment, when she developed the fever, it wasn't clear if it was due to the Ebola virus," or to the vaccine, Günther says. But now that the virus' three-week incubation period has passed and no other Ebola symptoms have surfaced, Günther believes the vaccine – not the Ebola virus – was responsible.
"We are very confident the game is over," he says, noting that the woman was released from the hospital yesterday and is physically and psychologically stable. But how the woman evaded the disease remains a mystery – either she never became infected in the first place or the vaccine worked, Günther says. The good news, he says, "[is that] there were no serious side effects associated with the vaccine."
The woman has now left the hospital with no lingering effects from the vaccine.
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