23 August 2010
Scientists developing a drug to treat the Ebola virus have been given permission to test it on humans. Authorities in the United States approved limited clinical trials after the treatment was shown to be effective in monkeys.
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Ebola is even more deadly to monkeys than humans. If they get it they die. However in tests, the new treatment cured 60% of them. It also proved 100% effective in dealing with the closely-related Marburg virus. The hope is that these results will be replicated or even bettered when the drug is given to humans.
Ebola has killed around 1,200 people since it was discovered during the mid-1970s in Zaire, now the Democratic Republic of Congo. So far, outbreaks have been limited to Africa where it's thought to be carried by fruit bats.
Ebola can be transmitted through contact with bodily fluids. Symptoms include nausea and vomiting, with victims suffering internal bleeding and organ failure before they die. The virus's high mortality rate has led to fears that it could be used in bioterrorism.
Funding for research into Ebola was stepped up in the United States following the attacks of September 11th 2001. The new treatment has been developed by the US Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases, along with a private company called AVI-BioPharma. Details of the research appear in the science journal Nature Medicine.
Iain Mackenzie, BBC News, Washington
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