Ebola virus seen under a microscope. Studio_3321 / iStock / Getty Images Plus
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced Thursday that it has approved a vaccine for Ebola manufactured by Merck, according to Reuters.
Merck's vaccine, Ervebo, was also approved by the European Commission in November, as STAT reported.
The vaccine was used widely by the World Health Organization and the Democratic Republic of Congo to help reduce the spread of the Ebola virus in a few West African countries from 2014 to 2016, according to Reuters. Ebola Zaire is the strain of the virus responsible for the ongoing outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, according to STAT.
The Ebola virus is extremely rare in the U.S. The only cases that have ever existed are from people infected in other countries who traveled to the U.S. or from healthcare workers who treated people infected with the virus, according to ABC News.
"Ebola virus disease is a rare but severe and often deadly disease that knows no borders," said Peter Marks, director of the FDA's Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, in a statement reported by STAT. "Vaccination is essential to help prevent outbreaks and to stop the Ebola virus from spreading when outbreaks do occur."
Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar touted the vaccine, which is a single-dose injection that works within 10 days of injection, as "a triumph of American global health leadership," according to CNN.
The Ebola Zaire virus has claimed thousands of life in West Africa and set off widespread panic during an outbreak in 2014. The current outbreak has claimed 2,000 lives in the Democratic Republic of Congo, while the outbreak in 2014 led to more than 11,000 deaths in West Africa, according to CNN.
The Ebola virus causes hemorrhagic fever, which can quickly shut down bodily functions. It spreads when a person makes direct contact with the bodily fluids of an infected person, as ABC News reported.
The vaccine is approved for patients 18 and older. It will make up a large portion of the vaccine stockpile held by the Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, to have readily available at the next sign of an outbreak, according to STAT. Gavi recently said it planned to stockpile half a million doses of the vaccine. Ervebo is attractive to Gavi for its simplicity since it is just a single-dose and has a fairly quick immune response time of just 10 days, as STAT reported.
"While the risk of Ebola virus disease in the U.S. remains low, the U.S. government remains deeply committed to fighting devastating Ebola outbreaks in Africa, including the current outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo," said Anna Abram, FDA deputy commissioner for policy, legislation and international affairs, in a statement Thursday, as ABC News reported. "Today's approval is an important step in our continuing efforts to fight Ebola in close coordination with our partners across the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, as well as our international partners, such as the World Health Organization."
The vaccine has been in the works for decades, starting in the 90s. However, the dearth of commercial interest in an Ebola vaccine kept large pharmaceutical companies from partnering in the research and development of the drug. The outbreak in 2014 triggered a change in attitude and the drug was rapidly developed.
It underwent extensive testing, culminating in a clinical trail in Guinea, which was effected by the outbreak. Ervebo proved effective in stopping the spread of the virus, as STAT reported.More than 258,000 people have been vaccinated in the current outbreak, according to STAT.
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The ghoulishly named ogre-faced spider can "hear" with its legs and use that ability to catch insects flying behind it, the study published in Current Biology Thursday concluded.
"Spiders are sensitive to airborne sound," Cornell professor emeritus Dr. Charles Walcott, who was not involved with the study, told the Cornell Chronicle. "That's the big message really."
The net-casting, ogre-faced spider (Deinopis spinosa) has a unique hunting strategy, as study coauthor Cornell University postdoctoral researcher Jay Stafstrom explained in a video.
They hunt only at night using a special kind of web: an A-shaped frame made from non-sticky silk that supports a fuzzy rectangle that they hold with their front forelegs and use to trap prey.
They do this in two ways. In a maneuver called a "forward strike," they pounce down on prey moving beneath them on the ground. This is enabled by their large eyes — the biggest of any spider. These eyes give them 2,000 times the night vision that we have, Science explained.
But the spiders can also perform a move called the "backward strike," Stafstrom explained, in which they reach their legs behind them and catch insects flying through the air.
"So here comes a flying bug and somehow the spider gets information on the sound direction and its distance. The spiders time the 200-millisecond leap if the fly is within its capture zone – much like an over-the-shoulder catch. The spider gets its prey. They're accurate," coauthor Ronald Hoy, the D & D Joslovitz Merksamer Professor in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior in the College of Arts and Sciences, told the Cornell Chronicle.
What the researchers wanted to understand was how the spiders could tell what was moving behind them when they have no ears.
It isn't a question of peripheral vision. In a 2016 study, the same team blindfolded the spiders and sent them out to hunt, Science explained. This prevented the spiders from making their forward strikes, but they were still able to catch prey using the backwards strike. The researchers thought the spiders were "hearing" their prey with the sensors on the tips of their legs. All spiders have these sensors, but scientists had previously thought they were only able to detect vibrations through surfaces, not sounds in the air.
To test how well the ogre-faced spiders could actually hear, the researchers conducted a two-part experiment.
First, they inserted electrodes into removed spider legs and into the brains of intact spiders. They put the spiders and the legs into a vibration-proof booth and played sounds from two meters (approximately 6.5 feet) away. The spiders and the legs responded to sounds from 100 hertz to 10,000 hertz.
Next, they played the five sounds that had triggered the biggest response to 25 spiders in the wild and 51 spiders in the lab. More than half the spiders did the "backward strike" move when they heard sounds that have a lower frequency similar to insect wing beats. When the higher frequency sounds were played, the spiders did not move. This suggests the higher frequencies may mimic the sounds of predators like birds.
University of Cincinnati spider behavioral ecologist George Uetz told Science that the results were a "surprise" that indicated science has much to learn about spiders as a whole. Because all spiders have these receptors on their legs, it is possible that all spiders can hear. This theory was first put forward by Walcott 60 years ago, but was dismissed at the time, according to the Cornell Chronicle. But studies of other spiders have turned up further evidence since. A 2016 study found that a kind of jumping spider can pick up sonic vibrations in the air.
"We don't know diddly about spiders," Uetz told Science. "They are much more complex than people ever thought they were."
Learning more provides scientists with an opportunity to study their sensory abilities in order to improve technology like bio-sensors, directional microphones and visual processing algorithms, Stafstrom told CNN.
"The point is any understudied, underappreciated group has fascinating lives, even a yucky spider, and we can learn something from it," he told CNN.
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