This is the Ebola virus. Dangerous and highly infectious, Ebola causes hemorrhagic fevers and kills half of those infected.
Disease symptoms are so harsh doctors consider it one of the worst ailments ever encountered.
“I think what really makes it frightening is the high mortality rate, the very severe symptoms people experience and the fact that it comes up when not expected,” Dr. Paul Spearman, director of Infectious Diseases at Cincinnati Children’s said.
Dr. Spearman is the lead investigator of a clinical trial that is testing an experimental vaccine to fight Ebola.
“Nobody has ever done such a rapid prime boost of these products. We’re giving one vaccine, followed one week later by another vaccine. That could give you very rapid protection as well as very durable protection if we get the type of responses we’re trying to achieve,” Spearman said.
“We have baseline, after one week, after two weeks and we compare them to see what difference vaccination makes,” said Dr. Karnail Singh, who leads sample testing of the study at Cincinnati Children’s.
Preclinical testing of the vaccine was promising and if this clinical trial shows the vaccine is effective at protecting people from Ebola, it could be deployed in the world’s hardest hit areas such as the Democratic Republic of Congo, a poor, resource-challenged country in Central Africa experiencing an outbreak that has already killed hundreds.
“These epidemics that occur in several parts of Africa can arise without warning,” said Spearman.
The vaccine has no Ebola virus particles and won’t cause an Ebola infection in study volunteers. But it does produce a major Ebola virus protein that is designed to force the immune system to sense and react to it.
Study participants are well aware of the importance of the work being done.
“Anything that we can do through research to stop it or prevent it or make it so that it’s not something that grows rapidly, then I think being a part of something like that is worth it,” said study participant Christy Keller.
To see if the vaccine works, researchers test the volunteer’s blood samples, which are collected before they receive the experimental vaccine and after.
Scientists then look for specific biological markers in the blood to see if the vaccine is stimulating an immune response and protection against the Ebola virus.
“This could provide clues for another Ebola vaccines, it also could derive basic principals of vaccination that allow us to understand the nature of protective immunity to other pathogens,” said Spearman.
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