This sounds like a science-fiction novel, but the following is totally true:

In 1967, a group of folks in Marburg Germany doing research with African Grivets, all got sick. Apparently they picked up a new virus from the grivets, and 7 of the 31 infected people died of hemorrhagic fever.

This Marburg virus (close relative of Ebola virus) caused a few more small outbreaks in Africa the next few decades, but it was eventually capitalized on by the Soviet Union for use as a bioweapon. Ironically, the individual in charge of this, Nikolai Ustinov, accidentally stuck himself with the virus, and died.

The Soviets then harvested his organs and isolated an even more potent virus from his remains, called ‘Variant U’. U, for Ustinov. Get it? LOL.

So now not only do we have to worry about ‘wild’ Marburg virus, which is scary in its own right and has recently caused some pretty large and deadly outbreaks, but now we also have to worry about VARIANT U SUPER SCARY Marburg virus as an actual weapon.

Maybe not any more!!

Postexposure Treatment of Marburg Virus Infection

Rhesus monkeys are protected from disease when a recombinant vesicular stomatitis virus-based vaccine is administered 20-30 min after infection with Marburg virus. We protected 5/6 monkeys when this vaccine was given 24 h after challenge; 2/6 animals were protected when the vaccine was administered 48 h postinfection.

If you expose a monkey to Marburg virus, they get sick and die.

If you give an exposed monkey this therapeutic vaccine 24-hours later, 5/6 survive. 48-hours post infection, 2/6 survive. While this is obviously awesome, it gets better: Some of the ones that were exposed+vaccine never even got sick. They were fine.

Two of the 6 animals that survived MBGV challenge (animals 1 and 6) showed no change in appearance or behavior that indicated overt illness.

AND, this disease progresses much faster in these monkeys than it does in humans, which means we probably have longer than 48-hours in a worst-case scenareo:

MBGV infection of humans normally progresses at a slower rate than does MBGV infection of macaques, with case-fatality rates in humans of 23%-90% (1) suggesting that the therapeutic window may be larger for humans than for infected macaques.

YAY SCIENCE!!!… But lets hope we just have to use this for random outbreaks, not for bioweapon attacks… But I do wonder if anti-vaxers would refuse this vaccine if it were necessary…


  1. #1 JohnV
    July 6, 2010

    One of the fund things about attending DoD chem/biodefense conferences is you get to hear about all sorts of neat vaccines and post-exposure treatments for this sort of thing.

    Also fun is the pledge of allegiance, camouflage and armed guards.

  2. #2 Cain
    July 6, 2010

    I suppose we should be glad that the Russians found a more virulent form of Marburg to use as a potential bio weapon. A virus at only kills a few hundred poor black Africans per decade won’t interest drug companies. Now that the military is involved, hopefully, the health care workers and native population of affected areas will have cheap access to the vaccine.

  3. #3 Optimus Primate
    July 6, 2010

    In Soviet Russia, deadly monkey virus gets you!

    What? Somebody had to say it.

  4. #4 Vene
    July 6, 2010

    Huh, makes me think of this.

  5. #5 Mu
    July 6, 2010

    While it probably won’t help the villagers in the Congo, it will at least protect the first responders, hopefully leading to a more proactive approach in treatment then “let it burn itself out”.

  6. #6 Cain
    July 6, 2010

    @5 Mu
    Since, like rabies, this is a post exposure vaccine; I can’t think of a reason why first responders won’t just jab everyone within a 20 square miles of an outbreak.

    I wonder how they would do phase 2 and 3 human trials with a vaccine like this. Maybe just do phase 1, hope for the best, then collect data over the next few decades.

  7. #7 goldfinch
    July 6, 2010

    Oh, cool story. I’ll echo the cheer: Yay science! for both vaccines.

  8. #8 dNorrisM
    July 7, 2010

    IMO, Cain wins the thread.

    (I paid $0.50 for a CNB textbook a while back, and thgis stuff still scares the crap out of me.)

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