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As Ebola Outbreak Spreads, Hopes for Vaccine Years Away

There are promising avenues of research, but sporadic nature of outbreaks makes testing difficult

MONDAY, April 14, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- As a major outbreak of Ebola virus spreads through the West African nations of Guinea and Liberia, public health officials are struggling to contain the pathogen before it slips into neighboring countries.

As of late last week, the number of suspected cases in Guinea had swelled to 158, with 101 deaths, according to the World Health Organization. There are 25 reported cases in nearby Liberia, including 12 deaths. Most deaths have occurred in the southeastern Guinea city of Guekedou, which lies near the borders of Sierra Leone and Liberia. Suspected cases have been reported in Sierra Leone, Mali, and Ghana, but none has been confirmed. Ebola's average death rate is about 70 percent, but can range between 20 and 90 percent depending on the strain.

The most promising efforts to develop an Ebola vaccine involve genetic splicing, Anthony Fauci, M.D., director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) told HealthDay. In this line of research, NIAID investigators and several pharmaceutical firms are pursuing separate research that would insert part of Ebola's genetics into an existing vaccine-ready virus.

Researchers at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia are spearheading another research effort along similar lines. They have produced an Ebola vaccine that piggybacks on the established rabies virus vaccine, and the new combination has successfully immunized mice and primates in lab tests against both rabies and Ebola.

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