Girl tests experimental drug after Hendra virus kills horse
A 12-year-old Australian and her mother are the first to try the drug, which fights Hendra virus, a disease that can kill 75 percent of people infected.
Fri, May 28, 2010 at 07:11 PM
DISEASED: Hendra and Nipah viruses are carried by a type of fruit bat commonly called flying foxes. (Photo: ZUMA Press)
WASHINGTON, D.C. - A 12-year-old Australian girl and her mother are the first people to try an experimental treatment for a deadly virus after the girl's horse died from the infection, researchers said on Friday.
The virus, called Hendra virus, emerged in Australia in the 1990s and can kill up to 75 percent of people infected.
Christopher Broder of the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda, Md., and colleagues sent the treatment, an engineered version of a human immune system protein, to the girl after hearing about the viral outbreak.
Australian media said the girl and her mother took the first doses of the drug on Thursday.
"There was an outbreak last week in a horse in Australia," said Thomas Geisbert of Boston University, who works with the team that developed the treatment. "We have a monoclonal antibody that we have used in the lab."
The U.S.-Australian research team reported about the antibody in the Public Library of Science journal PLoS Pathogens in October. It was developed to work against the closely related Nipah virus.
Hendra and Nipah viruses are carried by a type of fruit bat commonly called flying foxes. Recent outbreaks have caused severe disease in Australia, Malaysia, Singapore, Bangladesh and India. Hendra also infects horses.
The viruses can cause brain swelling and acute respiratory illness.
The monoclonal antibody attaches to the virus and helps neutralize it. Until this week it had only been tested in animals, but kept them from becoming ill after they were infected with Nipah.
Geisbert and Australian media said the girl and her mother were not sick but had been in close contact with the horse.
"This was the little girl's horse and it was pretty sick when they put it down," Geisbert said. "We shipped the antibody via FedEx to Australia."
The treatment is not licensed, but in such emergency situations unapproved treatments may be used.
(Reporting by Maggie Fox; editing by Julie Steenhuysen and Todd Eastham)
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