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Lab workers heading home to Winnipeg

Employees to be quarantined upon arrival

Members of a Red Cross burial team take samples from the body of a woman they suspect died of Ebola in the village of Dia, Sierra Leone.

PETER MULLER / PRIME FOR THE WASHINGTON POST Enlarge Image

Members of a Red Cross burial team take samples from the body of a woman they suspect died of Ebola in the village of Dia, Sierra Leone.

OTTAWA -- The three Winnipeg employees of the National Microbiology Lab being recalled from the front lines of the Ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone are being flown home on a private charter and will be quarantined upon their return.

PHAC said Thursday the workers are not currently sick and the risk they were infected with Ebola is low, but as a "precautionary measure" they will fly on a private plane, be monitored on the trip, and be met by quarantine officers from the Canada Border Services Agency when they land.

They are being recalled from helping provide front-line diagnoses after three other workers staying in the same hotel tested positive for Ebola.

PHAC did not say when they are expected to arrive. Once they are cleared by the quarantine officer they will voluntarily quarantine themselves in their homes, including away from family and friends, for up to three weeks, which is the incubation period for the deadly virus. Their health will continue to be monitored during this period.

This is the third team of three scientists and doctors from the National Microbiology Lab that has gone to west Africa to help contain the worst outbreak of Ebola the world has ever seen. More than 3,000 people have been diagnosed with Ebola in Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria and Sierra Leone, and 1,552 people have died. So far, at least 240 health workers have been infected with Ebola and 120 have died.

Once PHAC can assure a safe working environment in Sierra Leone, the lab will send another team to help with the rapid diagnosis of patients which can help get people isolated and treated as quickly as possible.

The United States recalled two scientists from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta for the same reason.

The Winnipeg lab is playing a big role in the battle against this outbreak, and a human trial of a new vaccine produced by scientists at the lab may begin in a few weeks. The trial could allow the World Health Organization to start using the 800 to 1,000 doses of the vaccine Canada donated to respond the current outbreak.

Those doses are at the lab in Winnipeg pending a decision on how to proceed.

The vaccine was licensed to NewLink Genetics in Ames, Iowa. NewLink's vice-president of business development said the company is finalizing the details to start the trial, which will involve injecting the vaccine into between 25 and 60 healthy volunteers.

The vaccine will be one of two that will begin to be tested in humans as early as next month.

On Thursday, the U.S. National Institutes of Health announced it will begin a Phase 1 trial next week on an Ebola vaccine designed by scientists at the Vaccine Research Center of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

The NIH is also providing support for the testing of the Canadian-made vaccine, known as VSV-EBOV. At least one of the trial sites for the VSV-EBOV study will be the clinical trials centre of the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research in Silver Spring, Md., Wiley said.

Up until now only one person has received the VSV-EBOV vaccine. In 2009, a German researcher pricked her finger with a needle she had used to inject Ebola virus into a mouse.

That lab accident sparked a transcontinental effort to figure out which of the various experimental Ebola products could be given to the woman to improve her survival chances. A group of Ebola experts settled on the Canadian vaccine.

The woman survived, but it was not clear if that was due to the vaccine, which has been shown to be useful as a post-exposure tool in primate testing. It's possible the virus never made its way into her bloodstream.

 

-- with files from Canadian Press

mia.rabson@freepress.mb.ca

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