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U.S. starts trial of Ebola vaccine

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. researchers said Tuesday they were starting testing on the first experimental vaccine against the Ebola virus in people.

The virus, which kills anywhere between 50 and 90 percent of victims, is still rare but the most recent outbreak in Congo Republic has killed at least 11 people in a remote forest region.

It is considered a threat because it is deadly, highly infectious and has no treatment. U.S. experts fear it could also be used as a biological weapon.

The U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases will test the vaccine for safety in about two dozen volunteers.

The vaccine, made by San Diego-based Vical Inc., has so far fully protected monkeys from the virus. It uses pieces of DNA from the virus to prime the immune system.

Mayo Clinic

"Our accelerated effort to understand and combat Ebola infection is part of the NIAID commitment to its biodefense mission," NIAID Director Dr. Anthony Fauci said in a statement.

"An effective Ebola vaccine not only would provide a life-saving advance in countries where the disease occurs naturally, it also would provide a medical tool to discourage the use of Ebola virus as an agent of bioterrorism."

The World Health Organization has been called in to help with the most recent Congo outbreak of Ebola, which kills through shock and which can cause internal bleeding.

The virus is named after a river in the Democratic Republic of Congo where it was discovered in 1976. The worst outbreak was in that country in 1995 when more than 250 died.

"The current Ebola outbreak in the Congo provides a stark reminder of the need to rapidly develop vaccines against such perilous infections," NIAID vaccine chief Dr. Gary Nabel said in a statement.

"A few years ago, we did not imagine that our vaccine would enter human trials so quickly, but the reemergence of such viruses makes it all the more important to respond quickly.

In the trial, 27 volunteers will get three injections over two months and will be followed for one year. They will not be exposed to Ebola virus. The study is meant to show the vaccine is safe.

Copyright 2003 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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