An Ebola Virus Test Is On The Way, But A Vaccine Won't Be Here Until 2015

As the death toll in West Africa nears 1,000, the FDA authorized use of an Ebola virus test on Wednesday, though the still-unapproved test can only be used for emergencies. According to the government agency, the test can diagnosis the Zaire strain of Ebola — the strain currently plaguing nations in West Africa. The test was developed by the Department of Defense, which submitted sufficient evidence to the FDA, as well as the Department of Health and Human Services, that justified the Emergency Use Authorization.

An FDA spokesperson said in a statement:

The test is designed for use in individuals, including Department of Defense personnel and responders, who may be at risk of infection as a result of the outbreak. Specifically, the test is intended for use in individuals with signs and symptoms of infection with Ebola Zaire virus, who are at risk for exposure to the virus or who may have been exposed to the virus.

According to the FDA, if an individual tests positive for Ebola, the individual is mostly likely infected with the disease and will be moved into isolation. Negative tests, the agency said, presume that the virus is not present, but aren't always foolproof. "The possibility of a false negative result should especially be considered if the patient’s recent exposures ... indicate that Ebola Zaire virus infection is likely," the FDA said.

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But does this mean an Ebola vaccine is also on the way? Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told The LA Times that there "are a few vaccines in the pipeline" but none has been approved. He added that researchers have tested an Ebola vaccine on monkeys and the results were "very impressive." However, the earliest a vaccine would be approved and administered to the public in 2015.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Ebola outbreak has killed at least 932 people in the West Africa nations of Sierra Leone, Liberia, Guinea and Nigeria. There have been more than 1,700 confirmed cases.

The CDC announced on Wednesday that it was raising its alert system to "level 1 activation," its highest emergency level. The health agency is deploying more personnel to the affected countries, including 50 disease experts, according to NBC News.

Although two affected Ebola patients have arrived in the United States in recent days, health experts say the chance of an Ebola outbreak here in extremely low. The two patients, Dr. Kent Brantly and relief worker Nancy Writebol, are currently being treated at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta, which is home to one of the leading virus facilities in the country.

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