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August 29, 2014

Ebola vaccine begins human trials


Researchers plan to start testing an Ebola vaccine on humans in the wake of the disease’s worst outbreak ever.

The World Health Organization announced a $490 million, nine-month plan to fight the disease, which has killed 1,550 so far and infected over 3,000.

The current Ebola outbreak began in the West African nation of Guinea and soon spread to Liberia, Sierra Leone. The World Health Organization has predicted that the total number of infections could reach 20,000 before it subsides.

Ebola is a viral hemorrhagic fever that has no effective treatment or cure.  It is transmitted through bodily fluids. Many infections have spread through funeral rites, but the largest majority of cases are women who took care of infected relatives.

Fear of the disease has broken health care systems in infected areas, according to Lindis Hurum, who works with from Doctors Without Borders.

“Hospitals have closed, clinics are closed. Some of them have reopened, but the staff is afraid to go back because they are afraid to get the disease,” she said.

Many of the affected West African countries lack the right infrastructure to control infections by quarantine and protect health workers.

GlaxoSmithKline, a large drug company that is partnered with the National Institute of Health, will make the vaccine. Pharmaceutical companies had previously taken little interest in Ebola drugs or vaccines, because it is hard to make money.

The vaccine contains a small amount of genetic material that makes a protein that is part of the virus. However, the vaccine does not contain a virus that can replicate and will not give Ebola to anyone.

Warm up questions
  1. How does disease spread?
  2. What is a vaccine?
  3. Do people around the world have the same access to medical care that you do?  Explain.
Critical thinking questions
  1. Up until now, many pharmaceutical companies have not been interested in helping produce an Ebola vaccine. Why are they making it now?
  2. What are some ethical issues surrounding human trials of new medicines?
  3. Officials have stated that many people in infected areas are afraid of the disease. How is this fear affecting the way the disease spreads?
  4. Many health workers are coming to West African countries from European nations. What sorts of cultural differences could they encounter? How would these differences affect the process of eradicating the virus?
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