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Reston’s Link to Ebola, Nearly 25 Years Later

by Karen Goff — July 31, 2014 at 8:45 am 7,138 23 Comments

Ebola Virus/Credit: CDCThere is worldwide concern over the worst Ebola outbreak in history. The current outbreak has killed nearly 700 people in four African countries, according to the World Health Organization.

The hemorrhagic disease is half a world away, but when scientists study Ebola and how it spreads, they often look to Reston.

That’s right, Reston, Va. There is a strain of Ebola called “Ebola Reston,” because it was discovered here in 1990.

There are five types of Ebola that can kill humans. Ebola Reston was discovered to only kill moneys, though

However, that discovery came after a serious medical investigation, chronicled in the book The Hot Zone.

Here’s what happened:

In the fall of 1989, Hazelton Laboratories had a lab at 1946 Isaac Newton Square West, where KinderCare is now located. The lab did animal experiments.

There were already about 500 macaque monkeys housed at the facility when 100 more were flown from the Philippines, according to an article in the Internet Journal of Preventative Medicine.

A month later, 29 of the 100 quarantined monkeys had died. During a necropsy, a veterinarian found one monkey’s spleen had tripled in size and hardened and there was blood in the intestines. After conducting several other necropsies he diagnosed the deaths as being caused by simian hemorrhagic fever virus (SHFV), the Journal article said.

The Hazelton facility veterinarian then sent samples of the monkey tissues to the United States Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID) for a conclusive diagnosis.  Meanwhile, Hazelton lab workers began euthanizing the remaining animals, but sporadic deaths began occurring in several other rooms. Soon, 30 monkeys from a different shipment were dead.

More from the Journal:

Back at USAMRIID another researcher discovered by electron microscopy that Ebola Zaire was responsible for the monkey deaths.

On Nov. 28, 1989 nearly six weeks after monkeys began dying in Reston, USAMRIID verified the Ebola finding. The following day, representatives from USAMRIID, the CDC, and the Virginia Department of Health met and developed an action plan. The CDC would handle people; USAMRIID would handle the monkeys and the monkey facility. Because of the threat that Ebola might spread to staff, Reston, and the greater Washington, DC community, the Army determined that all remaining monkeys would be immediately euthanized. The first task was to determine how best to administer a solution to a building potentially full of Ebola.

Scientists came to Reston in hazmat suits in order to carefully euthanize monkeys and stop the spread of the disease. During the process one of the monkeys escaped.

“Several of us spent the better part of a day trying to catch it,” Dr. Jerry Jaax said in a veterinary medical journal interview. “When we talk about the Reston incident, we compare the frustration of that day with the Hollywood version in the movie ‘Outbreak,’ in which an infected monkey was coaxed from a tree and captured within minutes. It is a great example of reality vs. Hollywood.’ ”

The runaway was later caught in the building.

Then the decontamination efforts began — an 11-day operation of scrubbing and bleaching. That was followed by electric frying pans cooking formaldehyde crystals for three days to rid the air of all toxins.

In the end, researchers concluded that the new species of Ebola was highly contagious in monkeys but not in humans. They also learned that the disease was not only found in Africa, since the monkeys had come from the Philippines. The investigators determined aerosol transmission was particularly quick in a lab setting, because the virus appeared to pass between rooms to infect susceptible monkeys.

The monkeys from Reston had an impact in Ebola research since doctors were able to study their diseased or exposed-to-disease bodies.

Hazelton was  later purchased by Covance Inc., and the labs moved out of Reston. The Reston building sat empty for several years, then was torn down in 1995. It has been a childcare center under various owners since it was rebuilt shortly after.

  • Simeon Prince

    so any solution for it

    • Karen Goff

      I don’t think there is a solution to any Ebola, which is why WHO and other heath officials are so concerned.

      • Mike M

        This article got picked up by WTOP where I first saw it. Well done.

    • Bah

      The solution is “don’t let anyone fly to the USA who has been in Africa in the last two weeks.”

    • ShadyJ

      No solution is needed since the Reston strain is not a danger to humans.

      • Wuda

        Yeah, that’s why scientists were wearing hazmat suits and thoroughly decontaminating, lol. I like it when someone says there’s 0% chance of it being an issue, I’d rather be safe than sorry.

        • Xenobio

          1) As a precaution
          2) Because monkeys are expensive and you don’t want to make the rest of them sick

      • MannyHMo

        As I mentioned above, the smallpox vaccine is made up, not of smallpox virus but cowpox vaccinia virus. Just by the process of observation they found out that the milkmaids in England are immune to smallpox and had wonderful skin complexion free of pox scars. Why not expose people to the non-lethal cowpox virus to make them immune to deadly smallpox ? Back to Ebola Reston. Nobody has died from Ebola Reston anywhere. Can we build immunity to Ebola Zaire by being exposed to Ebola Reston ? Is there a way to test immunity to Ebola Zaire by simply examining the serum ? Ebola Reston might be heaven sent if it follows the logic of the cowpox for smallpox.

  • Lu

    I remember this. They evacuated the building, decontaminated it and then bulldozed the whole thing down and cleared away every brick and stone. After they cleared the land they rebuilt a day care center, I guess to show how safe the site was now.

    • ShadyJ

      The facility wasn’t razed until 6 years after the incident. There was no need to prove how safe the site was since humans aren’t at danger from the Reston strain.

  • Chris

    The Reston incident was covered in gory detail in the 1995 book “The Hot Zone” by Richard Preston. I read it shortly after it came out, and it made me wonder, albeit briefly, why I’d moved back to the DC region.

  • Pimptastic

    ewwww, you said monkey spunk!

  • simon

    is their any chance the Reston strain could interact with the current strain and mutate into an airborne Ebola virus

    • KG

      SIMON from what I have read all viruses can and have the ability to mutate as they are fighting to survive while scary it is like the survival of the fittest. I am no biologist ,just have been doing some reading to get educated on it

    • Xenobio

      Zero. And yes, I’m an actual working virologist and not an armchair expert who took Intro to Virology in college once.

  • The biggest lesson in all of this mess? Animal experimentation is a bumbling antiquated relic of medical history, that’s clearly going the way of horse & buggy. Covance (fka Hazelton Laboratories) is the worst of the bunch too – an embarassment to the industry. Just a few years ago, they had a TB outbreak at another facility (again, infected monkeys they had imported from overseas and planned to go ghastly experiments on) and tried to keep it secret. It was only through a whistleblower and FOIA request that Covance’s tuberculosis scandal was ever brought to light. Pretty much ANY company that still does animal-testing, in this day & age, is scraping the bottom of the barrel in terms of ethics and modern technology.

    • John

      Mike are you going to volunteer? I didn’t think so, and neither would I!

  • noonecares

    Floyd say: “this would never happen in Mayberry, right Andy?”

  • MannyHMo

    It’s not monkeys that harbors or carries this current Ebola Zaire. The most likely suspect is bat; that’s not 100% certain however.

  • Xenobio

    Now that you mention it, Ebola Reston might possibly make a pretty good live attenuated vaccine (depending on how far apart the genome sequences are and probability of developing virulence in humans).

    • MannyHMo

      Actually it’s ‘inherently’ attenuated; it doesn’t harm or kill humans ! It’s just a matter of finding those exposed to Ebola Reston and testing their serum to see if immunity to this deadly Ebola Zaire exist. No need to test for safety because there had never been any deaths to those monkey handlers and pig farmers in the Philippines as well as those researchers here in the U.S. Again, my question is – Why is it that the NIH, CDC, and others not looking at it from this angle ?
      The solution might be as simple as using cowpox virus as a vaccine to the deadly smallpox ! Thanks Xenobio for reinforcing my hypothesis or theory.

      • Xenobio

        “No need to test for safety” <– Sorry but HERE is where you've gone off the rails. Jenner invented vaccination at a time when there were no regulations on medicine and also where the smallpox death rate was so high that nearly anything was better (like variolation). Vaccinia in itself is not completely harmless. The pustules are kind of disgusting, and can be life-threatening to people with severe skin problems or immune system disorders. (modern vaccinia virus is not actually Jenner's historical cowpox, it's now thought to be related to horsepox btw). Something with the level of side effects that vaccinia causes would not be acceptable against a less deadly and less contagious disease, e.g. we would not accept that in a flu vaccine for instance.

        Any possible candidate vaccine from Ebola Reston would have to go extensive testing, not just a Phase I first-in-man safety study which would determine if it was safe for further testing in healthy adults, but also as I mentioned above a lot of molecular studies to determine the risk of human-pathogenic mutants evolving.

        Reversion to virulence is a real concern for live attenuated vaccines. Another historical example is oral polio which sometimes mutates and causes paralysis. Another old vaccine which no doubt has saved tens of thousands of people but has risks which would be considered unacceptable if it was invented today.

        That's why the current vaccines in Phase I clinical are not based on live Ebola of any sort.

        I'm glad you're enthusiastic and know a bit about the background but honestly, vaccine development in real life is way more complicated 😉

  • coffeeHouse1982

    As Rep. Chris Smith has noted, ObamaCare edicts violate existing Federal law by forcing consumers to pay abortion surcharges along with their insurance premiums.

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