As Ebola outbreak grows, question of using vaccine becomes more urgent

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By Jon Cohen

As health officials and aid workers head to a remote corner of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to respond to an outbreak of Ebola virus disease, a key question remains: Will the government authorize the use of a promising experimental vaccine? The vaccine had stunning results in a clinical trial in Guinea in 2015, but it has yet to be licensed for broad use.

As DRC officials weigh whether to use the vaccine, new details are emerging about the outbreak, which so far includes 20 suspected cases and three deaths, including the first, or “index,” case. Most cases are in the Bas-Uélé health zone that borders the Central African Republic. Three teams there are working on identifying suspect cases, educating the communities, and investigating villages where “non-secure” funerals have taken place. They are also contacting a traditional healer in Nambwa who “received the index case”–a 45-year-old man who first sought help on 22 April–for six days.

In Likati, the largest town in the area, another team is overseeing a database of the cases. Two mobile laboratories are on their way, as are personal protective equipment for frontline responders, reagents for 100 tests, and GPS’s for field crews. More experts from the government, the World Health Organization, Doctors Without Borders (MSF), and the Alliance for International Medical Action are on the way, and a helicopter is being arranged to bridge Likati to other places.

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