08/01/2001 11:00PM

West Nile vaccine gets go-ahead

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LEXINGTON, Ky. - A new equine vaccine against West Nile virus, which can be fatal to humans and horses, was approved Wednesday, even as scientists continue tests on it. The vaccine is the first made to combat the virus in horses.

West Nile virus, a mosquito-borne disease, has killed nine people and 32 horses in the United States since 1999. Horses and humans can not spread the disease to each other, but both contract it from the bites of infected mosquitoes.

The United States Department of Agriculture announced Wednesday that it has issued a one-year conditional license to the vaccine's manufacturer, Fort Dodge Laboratories in Fort Dodge, Iowa, to meet what the USDA termed "a special circumstance."

A USDA release said, "Under these regulations, a product that is shown to be pure and safe and demonstrates a reasonable expectation of efficacy may be licensed while data to establish efficacy and potency are still being obtained."

The release said, "The special circumstance here is the need for a product to aid in the prevention of disease caused by West Nile virus."