AMSTERDAM, NETHERLANDS - NOVEMBER 12: A trainee wearing protective glasses is helped getting dressed during the Ebola training program on November 12, 2014 in Amsterdam, Netherlands. Doctors Without Borders has established a training program in a reproduction field hospital build in an old factory, without electricity and running water, in the Dutch capital for medical personnel world wide who are being sent to countries where Ebola is rife. The charity says it needs hundreds of doctors who are willing and sufficiently skilled to go to Africa to try to help combat the epidemic. The training centre in Amsterdam is the second of its kind after Brussels. (Photo : Jasper Juinen/Getty Images)
Hopeful news from the frontlines of the Ebola fight. Researchers from Harvard Medical School have published research on a new diagnostic tool that may make identification of those infected with Ebola as simple and fast as a pregnancy test.
The tool comes in the form of a rapid-detection test that diagnoses Ebola within minutes. The Harvard team tested it this past spring at two treatment centers in Sierra Leone, one of the hardest hit areas of this latest outbreak, which has claimed over 11,000 lives since 2013. Other West African countries include Guinea and Liberia and although the outbreak appears to be under control, new cases continue to crop up.
Blood testing for Ebola, like many tests for infectious disease, typically takes several days to obtain results, which puts patients and healthcare workers in a holding pattern before they are able to confirm a diagnosis. There are other risks associated with traditional testing, which include syringes and test tubes containing infected blood and the transport of these items from field to lab.
But the report published on June 25 in The Lancet may usher in a faster, safer method of diagnosing this deadly disease.
The new test, known as ReEBOV Antigen Rapid Test, was developed by Colorado-based Corgenix. Instead of having to draw blood from potentially infected patients, all it takes is a quick finger prick, which can be accomplished using safety lancets that are spring-loaded and pose no danger of accidental needle sticks. The drop of blood is placed on a test strip and a sample testing positive for Ebola causes colored lines to appear on the strip.
"Simplifying the process and speeding up diagnosis could have a major impact," Nira Pollock, associate medical director of the Infectious Diseases Diagnostic Laboratory at Boston Children's Hospital and lead author on the paper, said in a Harvard news release.
Not only is the test rapid and safe, it is also incredibly accurate.
The researchers tested 106 patients using the new diagnostic and compared their results against standard laboratory tests. ReEBOV proved 100% reliable against standard testing, meaning all 45 specimens that tested positive for Ebola based on conventional testing also showed positive on the rapid-detection method. Similar results were seen among negative outcomes, with 214 of the 232 specimens that tested negative being confirmed by ReEBOV (92% specificity).
The only remaining hurdle involves patients who have very low levels of the virus in their bloodstream. These patients could only be identified using an alternative lab test that so far has not been widely available to healthcare workers in the field. So more work will be needed on ReEBOV, so that these cases might also be caught.