A green squiggle.

This green squiggle is an image of the Reston subtype of the Ebola virus.

Credit: CSIRO

It looks like the Ebola epidemic that has ravaged West Africa for over a year may soon be under control. Last week, there were only a handful of new cases in Guinea and Sierra Leone. Meanwhile, scientists are getting closer to a vaccine to prevent these outbreaks from occurring again.

Recently, a new Ebola virus vaccine was trialled in Guinea, Africa. Around 7500 people at high risk of Ebola infection were vaccinated and none of them became infected with Ebola virus – an excellent result.

There are difficulties in testing new Ebola vaccines. “Ebola is a rare disease, so there are few opportunities to run trials in an outbreak,” says CSIRO researcher Glenn Marsh, who was not involved in the recent trial.

“Traditionally, if you were doing a clinical trial for a vaccine, you would have two groups of people – one group would get the vaccine and the other group would get injected in the same way, but without the drug,” says Glenn. “Since you have the two groups in the same location at the same time, you can draw real conclusions.

Luckily, there is another way to test these vital drugs. If a vaccine works well in at least two different animal species, it may then be approved for human use. Glenn and his team at the Australian Animal Health Laboratory are working to test the effectiveness of different Ebola vaccines.

The West African Ebola outbreak has been catastrophic. It has killed thousands of people, and lasted well over a year. But things are looking up, and hopefully next time Ebola raises its head, we’ll have vaccines ready to fight it.

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