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Scientists Speed Up Ebola Trials as Virus Hits Senegal

Ebola Center in Liberia
Health care workers, wearing protective suits, leave a high-risk area at the French NGO Medecins Sans Frontieres Elwa hospital in Monrovia, Liberia, on August 30, 2014. Photographer: Dominique Faget/AFP via Getty Images

Scientists are speeding up clinical trials for treatments and vaccines for Ebola as the worst-ever outbreak of the virus spread to a fifth country and complicated efforts to provide emergency food aid.

France’s state health institute is in talks with Guinea to start the first drug trials using infected people there, while the U.S. National Institutes of Health will begin enrolling patients next week in an early-stage trial of GlaxoSmithKline Plc’s experimental vaccine. Monkeys with Ebola survived after being treated with Mapp Biopharmaceutical Inc.’s experimental drug, according to results published in the journal Nature.

There is no known cure or vaccine for the disease, which is spread by direct contact with bodily fluids and kills more than half of those infected. Neighboring governments have shut borders and international and regional carriers have canceled flights, isolating Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia. That’s complicated efforts to get supplies and health workers to affected areas to contain the disease, which the World Health Organization says may infect as many as 20,000 people before being contained in six to nine months.

The WHO said $490 million will be needed to curb the spread of Ebola in West Africa. The virus has appeared in Nigeria, Africa’s largest economy and most populous country, and this week a case was confirmed in Senegal in a 21-year-old student from Guinea. The disease has killed more than 1,550 people since the outbreak began in December.

The World Food Programme has stopped feeding people in Guinea because of food shortages, Steve Taravella, a spokesman for the Rome-based United Nations agency, said in an e-mail yesterday. The agency needs $70 million to feed about 1.3 million people in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia.

Sierra Leone President Ernest Bai Koroma fired his health minister yesterday and said the nation needs a new approach to contain the disease, which has killed more than 400 and sickened more than 1,000 in the country.

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