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‘Vaccine for Ebola to trial next month, may be ready by 2015’ Deceased Saudi negative for Ebola in 1st test results

PARIS, Aug 9, (Agencies): Clinical trials of a preventative vaccine for the Ebola virus made by British pharma company GlaxoSmithKline may begin next month and made available by 2015, the World Health Organization said on Saturday. “We are targeting September for the start of clinical trials, first in the United States and certainly in African countries, since that’s where we have the cases,” Jean- Marie Okwo Bele, the WHO’s head of vaccines and immunisation, told French radio.

He said he was optimistic about making the vaccine commercially available. “We think that if we start in September, we could already have results by the end of the year. “And since this is an emergency, we can put emergency procedures in place ... so that we can have a vaccine available by 2015.” There is currently no available cure or vaccine for Ebola, a virus that causes severe fever and, in the worst cases, unstoppable bleeding. It has claimed close to 1,000 lives in the latest epidemic to spread across west Africa this year. Fatality rates can approach 90 percent, although the latest outbreak has killed around 55 to 60 percent of those infected.

Several vaccines are being tested, and a treatment made by San Diego-based Mapp Biopharmaceutical, ZMapp, has shown promising results on monkeys and may have been effective in treating two Americans recently infected in Africa. Meanwhile, a Saudi man who died while showing symptoms similar to Ebola was not infected with the virus, according to initial test results cited by health authorities on Saturday.

The health ministry announced Wednesday that the man had died of a heart attack. The ministry has received a “preliminary laboratory result” from Atlanta showing that the man had tested negative for Ebola, it said in a statement carried by the official SPA news agency. The “same US laboratories will carry out further precise and developed tests to ensure the absence of other viruses that could cause haemorrhagic fever,” the symptoms the man had upon his return from Sierra Leone, the ministry said. It is awaiting results of testing in Germany in the same case. Since breaking out earlier this year, the tropical virus has claimed almost 900 lives and infected more than 1,603 people across West Africa. The Saudi case was announced Tuesday by the health ministry, which said the patient had been quarantined in hospital in the Red Sea city of Jeddah.

In April, Saudi Arabia announced a ban on visas for Muslims from the three West African nations of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone wishing to perform the pilgrimage to its Muslim holy sites. World Health Organisation (WHO) chief Margaret Chan, declaring the epidemic a global health emergency, said in Geneva Friday it was the worst of its kind in four decades. Elsewhere, Guinea closed its borders with Sierra Leone and Liberia on Saturday in a bid to halt the spread of an Ebola epidemic that has killed nearly 1,000 people in the three countries this year.

Authorities said the decision was taken primarily to prevent infected people crossing into Guinea, a country where at least 367 people have died of Ebola since March and 18 others are being treated in isolation. The West African Ebola outbreak is the worst the world has faced and the UN World Health Organization (WHO) said on Friday it represents an international health emergency that will likely continue spreading for months.

It has put a severe strain on the health systems of affected states and governments have responded with a range of measures including national emergencies declared in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Nigeria, which confirmed seven cases of Ebola in Lagos. “We have provisionally closed the frontier between Guinea and Sierra Leone because of all the news that we have received from there recently,” Health Minister RÈmy Lamah said, noting Guinea had also closed its border with Liberia.

The measures had been taken in consultation with the two neighbours, Guinea’s Minister for International Cooperation, Moustapha Koutoub Sano, told a news conference. There was no immediate comment from Liberia and Sierra Leone. While Guinea’s official land border crossings with the countries will shut, it will be extremely difficult to prevent people in rural areas crossing its long and porous frontiers. It was not immediately clear how the closure would impact air travel.

Ebola is one of the deadliest diseases known to humanity. It has no proven cure and there is no vaccine to prevent infection. The most effective treatment involves alleviating symptoms that include fever, vomiting and diarrhoea. At the same time, the rigorous use of quarantine for suspected cases is needed to prevent its spread as well as high standards of hygiene for anyone who might come into contact with the disease.

These measures have proved hard to enforce given that Ebola has flourished in rural areas of some of the poorest countries in the world. The task is made harder because of mistrust of health workers in areas that have long seen only sparse public health provisions. The UN health agency said on Friday that 961 people have died during the outbreak and 1,779 people have been infected. The organisation, which said on May 18 that Ebola could be declared over by May 22, has been accused of failing to respond fast enough to the outbreak.

Authorities in Ghana said on Saturday they were testing blood samples from a man from Burkina Faso who died while being transported to hospital in the Upper East region of the country near the Burkinabe border. “He had fever and was bleeding from the nose so we are testing him for Ebola because we don’t want to take chances,” Yaw Manu, medical head at Bawku Presbyterian Hospital, said by telephone. Ghana has previously conducted around 20 Ebola tests, though none has proved positive.

Authorities in Benin also said on Saturday they were testing a patient for Ebola, the second suspected case in the country. Ebola has reaped a high toll on health workers who have acted as first responders. On Saturday, Sierra Leone’s Health Ministry said a senior physician had contracted the disease at the Connaught referral hospital in the capital Freetown. Doctor Modupeh Cole contracted the disease “after treating a patient ... who was later proved to have the virus and died,” said health ministry spokesman Sidi Yahya Tunis.

Cole was taken to an Ebola treatment centre in eastern Kailahun district run by medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres, Tunis said. He is the latest Sierra Leonean medical practitioner to contract the virus.

The country’s leading Ebola doctor, Shek Umar Khan, died of the disease last month and several nurses have also died. International alarm over the spread of the disease increased last month when a US citizen died in Nigeria after travelling there by plane from Liberia. Since then, other countries with no cases of the disease have taken measures as a precaution. Zambia said it would restrict the entry of travellers from countries affected by the virus and would ban Zambians from travelling to those countries, in one of the strictest moves by any nation outside of West Africa. Zambia’s Health Ministry also advised against holding any “international events” such as conferences, which lead to mass gatherings, citing concerns about the ability to control potential outbreaks. Gambia’s Ministry of Transport said any planes flying to the capital Banjul should not stop at airports in Conakry, Freetown or Monrovia.

The Ebola outbreak in West Africa is focusing a spotlight on an online tool that flagged a “mystery hemorrhagic fever” in the region several days before the World Health Organization formally announced the epidemic. HealthMap uses algorithms to scour tens of thousands of social media sites, local news, government websites, infectious- disease physicians’ social networks and other sources to detect and track disease outbreaks.

Sophisticated software filters irrelevant data, classifies the relevant information, identifies diseases and maps their locations with the help of experts. HealthMap is operated by a group of 45 researchers, epidemiologists and software developers at Boston Children’s Hospital spinoff. Co-founder John Brownstein says the Ebola outbreak has triggered a massive increase in visitors to their online tool. A Catholic humanitarian group based in Spain says a nun from the Congo who was working in Liberia has died of the Ebola virus.

The San Juan de Dios hospital order says Saturday that Sister Chantal Pascaline died “from Ebola in the Hospital San Jose de Monrovia, despite the care she received from a volunteer nurse.” Pascaline belonged to the same order as a Spanish missionary priest and nun evacuated to Madrid by jet this week. Both are in stable condition in a Madrid hospital. The latest Ebola outbreak is the largest and longest ever recorded for the disease and so far has killed at least 961 people, the UN health agency said Friday. It emerged in Guinea in March and has since spread to Sierra Leone, Liberia and Nigeria.

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