A volunteer has received the first human inoculation of an experimental vaccine designed to prevent infection by Ebola, a highly lethal African virus that some officials fear could be used as a weapon of bioterrorism.

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Researchers at the Vaccine Research Center of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, one of the National Institutes of Health, administered the vaccine to a volunteer on Tuesday at the NIH clinical center in Bethesda, officials announced.

The first human trial comes just three years after researchers from the vaccine center announced that an experimental Ebola vaccine had protected monkeys fully from the usually lethal virus.

A part of the experimental vaccine used on monkeys is now being assessed for safety in human volunteers, the NIAID announced. The vaccine is based on DNA technology and is similar to other trial vaccines that may be used to control AIDS, malaria and hepatitis.

“An effective Ebola vaccine not only would provide a lifesaving advance in countries where the disease occurs naturally, it also would provide a medical tool to discourage the use of Ebola virus as an agent of bioterrorism,” said Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, director of NIAID.

Ebola, which causes extensive internal bleeding and rapid death, is highly infectious. No effective treatment currently exists. In Africa, up to 90 percent of patients infected in an Ebola outbreak die.

An African outbreak of Ebola occurred in 1976 and again in 1995, a gap of almost two decades. Experts fear that, for reasons unknown, outbreaks of Ebola will occur with increasing frequency.

© 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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