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A new Ebola vaccine is being tested in war-torn Congo

The latest Ebola outbreak is the tenth in the Democratic Republic of the Congo since the disease was first reported there in 1976. New intervention techniques including the vaccination of thousands of people are being used to contain the outbreak in the war-torn region. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, joins Hari Sreenivasan for more.

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  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    The Ebola outbreak is the tent in the Democratic Republic of Congo since the disease was first reported there in 1976. One of the world's experts on this disease and the development of vaccines to prevent it joins me now from Washington D.C.. Anthony Fauci is director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. Dr. Fauci how much harder is this to treat considering that it's happening in a war zone?

  • DR. ANTHONY FAUCI:

    Well, it's certainly much more difficult because you don't have free access to the people who are known to be infected. And as importantly and perhaps even more importantly, that when you have to put the lid on an outbreak and identify people who might be exposed and you want to treat them as they get infected, that you don't have access to them because you don't know who they are or where they are because the chain of contacts gets broken when you can't geographically or physically get into a place where you know the contacts are. Because it's blocked off because of the hostilities that are going on.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Even if you get into those areas isn't there a threat of the spread of a virus from a deceased person that might have been killed in the war?

  • DR. ANTHONY FAUCI:

    Well, certainly if the person was killed in the war and had Ebola, there can be infected if you don't properly take care of the body with that personal protective equipment that is used to protect the people both the physicians, the health workers and even the people who are the undertakers, who take care of the dead bodies.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    What about the fact that this is the 10th outbreak in this area? I mean, why is it so hard to to stop this in this region?

  • DR. ANTHONY FAUCI:

    Well, that's a very good question but it's something that you really cannot do very much about because this is a virus that doesn't stay among the human populations chronically forever. It goes up and down. But there's a reservoir in animals. Bats clearly can get infected — we don't know whether they're the primary reservoir. Non-human primates and forest animals can get infected. So if this were a virus that only infected humans, once you got to all the humans, either treated them or vaccinated them, you would be done. But the reason you get these continual blips is that this virus is there perpetually in the environment in animal reservoirs.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Let's talk a little bit about the vaccine. How did we come to this. How does it work?

  • DR. ANTHONY FAUCI:

    Bottom line is the vaccine works by inducing the person who gets vaccinated, of response that is able to contain, stop and kill the virus. So if I got vaccinated against this particular Ebola strain with this vaccine that referred to as VSV that vaccine will induce in me a protective response so that when I get exposed to Ebola, my immunological or my protective response is going to prevent that Ebola virus from infecting me. So it really is the way most vaccines work.

    So when you get vaccinated against polio, the polio vaccine induces a response in you that protects you against polio. When you get vaccinated against measles, the same thing. You get vaccinated, you make your response and you're protected. The vaccine against Ebola works exactly that same way. It induces in the body a response that's protects you against exposure to the virus itself.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    I realize there are different strains of Ebola. How far away are we from having almost the equivalent of a cure or something that can respond rapidly to an outbreak?

  • DR. ANTHONY FAUCI:

    Well, there are two things that we're working with right now. One of them is a vaccine. More than one, a couple of vaccine candidates, which really look quite promising in the field. That's one approach. The other approach is the treatment of a person who has been infected with Ebola and several of those candidates are now being treated, being used in the DRC and will ultimately be used in a clinical trial to see which one is the best.

    o at the end of all of this, it will take some time. We will hopefully have one or more therapies to treat a person who is infected with Ebola and a good vaccine, which has been proven to protect people from getting infected with Ebola. So even though these outbreaks keep coming and so they're obviously very concerning in the country where the outbreak is going on, the science and the development of what we call interventions or countermeasures in the form of either vaccines or treatments is moving along really rather well.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    All right. Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, thanks so much for joining us today.

  • DR. ANTHONY FAUCI:

    Good to be with you.

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