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Congo’s Ebola outbreak is all but over. Did an experimental vaccine help?

Science described the work of Anne Rimoin, associate professor of epidemiology at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health, in an article about an experimental vaccine that was administered during the most recent Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo. 

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Date: 
Wednesday, July 18, 2018
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An Ebola outbreak that erupted 8 May in a remote region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and then threatened to explode in a highly populated city appears to have been quelled. On 12 June, the last known person infected with the deadly hemorrhagic fever had recovered, twice testing negative for the virus. That started the 42-day clock for an official declaration, expected on 24 July, that the outbreak is over.

The quick end to this outbreak—after 53 cases in Équateur province, 29 of which were fatal—is a striking contrast to the Ebola epidemic that devastated West Africa from 2014 to 2016, which sickened more than 28,000 people, killing 11,310. "I certainly haven't seen an Ebola-response time frame that looks this compressed," says epidemiologist Peter Salama, who heads the Health Emergencies Programme at the World Health Organization (WHO) in Geneva, Switzerland, and led the agency's DRC response. Much of the credit goes to unusually rapid and vigorous surveillance, contact tracing, containment, and public education efforts by the DRC, WHO, and other international partners, Salama says. "Some of the most important lessons from the West African epidemic were truly learned." But a new factor played an unknown, and perhaps important, role: an experimental vaccine, used for the first time early in an outbreak.

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