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Ebola researcher shows no symptoms

February 20, 2004|by DAVID DISHNEAU

FREDERICK, Md. - A civilian scientist at Fort Detrick remained free of Ebola symptoms Thursday, eight days after accidentally grazing her hand with a needle while injecting mice infected with a weakened form of the deadly virus, the Army said.

The unidentified researcher is in a biosafety containment care suite known as "the slammer" that was last used for patient care in 1985, spokeswoman Caree Vander Linden said. The two-bed suite - rated BSL-4, the highest biosafety level - is at the U.S. Army Institute of Infectious Diseases at Fort Detrick, about 45 miles northwest of Washington.

Based on preliminary lab tests, officials said they believe the risk of Ebola infection is low.

Ebola hemorrhagic fever has an incubation period ranging from two days to 21 days, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It is a severe, often-fatal disease in humans and nonhuman primates that has appeared sporadically since its initial recognition in 1976.

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The patient was doing postdoctoral virology work at USAMRIID, where she has worked as a National Research Council fellow since June 2002, Vander Linden said. She grazed her hand Feb. 11 while studying potential treatments for Ebola, the Army said.

The mice she was treating were infected two days earlier with a low dose of the weakened virus, the Army said.

Vander Linden said the woman slept at home the night of the accident and entered the suite Feb. 12 for a stay of up to 30 days.

"We concluded on the evening this occurred that she needed some time to get her personal things together," she said. "Due to the incubation period, there was no risk to the community."

The suite is called the slammer because the metal door to a shower that must be used before leaving the area makes a loud noise when it's closed, Vander Linden said. She said the woman wears scrubs inside the chamber and is tended by nurses wearing gowns, gloves, surgical masks and face shields. Her food goes in on trays, Vander Linden said.

The containment consists of two, 180-square-foot hospital-like rooms and a 300-square-foot treatment room. The air is exchanged up to 15 times an hour and is filtered coming in and going out, leaving it cleaner than when it entered, Fort Detrick spokesman Charles Dasey said.

Vander Linden said the suite was last used for patient care in 1985, for observation of a lab worker after a possible finger puncture while working with the virus that causes Argentine hemorrhagic fever. No illness resulted.

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