Experimental Ebola vaccine used on human

BERLIN — It was a nightmare scenario worthy of a sci-fi movie script: A scientist accidentally pricked her finger with a needle used to inject the deadly Ebola virus into lab mice.

BERLIN — It was a nightmare scenario worthy of a sci-fi movie script: A scientist accidentally pricked her finger with a needle used to inject the deadly Ebola virus into lab mice.

Within hours of the accident, several members of a tightly bound, yet far-flung community of virologists, biologists and others tensely gathered in a trans-Atlantic telephone conference to map out a way to save her life.

The outcome was stunning. Within 24 hours of the March 12 lab accident, an experimental vaccine — never before tried on humans — was on its way to Germany from a lab in Canada.

Within 48 hours, the at-risk scientist, a 45-year-old woman whose identity has not been revealed, was injected with the vaccine.

So far, so good.

If the woman is still healthy on April 2, she can consider herself safe.

Ebola hemorrhagic fever, mostly seen only in Africa, is one of the world’s most feared diseases. It begins with flu-like symptoms, followed by bloody diarrhea and vomiting. Days later, some victims begin bleeding through the nose, mouth and eyes. Depending on the strain of the virus, it can kill up to 90 percent of victims. It has no cure. It is spread through direct contact with the blood or secretions of an infected person.

Dr. Stephan Guenther, head of the Bernhard Nocht Institute for Tropical Medicine in Hamburg, where the researcher was working, said tests so far show that the scientist is healthy and free of the virus.

The peak period for an outbreak in the 21-day Ebola incubation period passed this week, he said.

“We are now on the downside,” Guenther told The Associated Press, noting that with each passing day the chance of infection taking root diminishes.

One complicating factor is that it’s not entirely clear the researcher was actually infected with the virus. At the time of the accident, she was wearing three layers of protective gloves. Though the needle stuck her, the plunger was not pushed so it’s not certain the virus entered her bloodstream.

If she doesn’t become infected, scientists may not know if it was the vaccine or luck.

There are two other known accidents involving researchers who came into direct contact with a similar strain of the virus. A Russian researcher died from it. A British scientist became ill but survived.

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