A new Ebola test that can diagnose the disease within 15 minutes is just as effective as the standard practice, a study suggests. The test, which only needs a drop of blood, is especially useful for health workers in remote areas.
The new rapid diagnostic test (RDT), called ReEBOV, was first granted Emergency Use Authorization by the World Health Organization (WHO). Traditional Ebola tests search for the pathogen's genetic material, which requires larger blood samples to be drawn and sent to a laboratory to be analyzed. These facilities are often not within reach of outbreak areas, and the results can take hours or days to come back. Health workers and humanitarians urgently need a point-of-care test to rapidly decrease waiting time.
"Delays like this result not only in the failure to diagnose and treat Ebola-infected patients, but also in individuals without Ebola being admitted to holding units where they may be subsequently infected with the virus," co-author Nira Pollak, an associate medical director of the infectious diseases diagnostic laboratory at Boston Children's Hospital, told the Washington Post.
The new test, currently manufactured by Colorado-based Corgenix, overcomes these limitations and requires little training to use. While the standard test costs about $100, ReEBOV only costs $15 per test.
A new study, published in the journal The Lancet, has analyzed the accuracy and efficiency of ReEBOV. The test requires that a drop of blood from a finger prick is placed onto a treated strip, which indicates either a positive or negative result based on the presence of antibodies, rather than genetic material. Researchers tested both ReEBOV and the standard laboratory-based test on 106 suspected Ebola patients in Sierra Leone. They found that ReEBOV was able to detect every case of Ebola that the standard test picked up on, but at a much faster rate.
“We were surprised by the performance,” Pollock told Science Magazine, “It was more sensitive than I expected for a rapid antigen diagnostic test.”
Researchers do point out that both tests failed to detect a small number of Ebola cases, as the lab-based test that was being used as a gold standard wasn’t itself 100% positive. They call for further research in both tests to help diagnose patients who have low levels of the virus in their blood.
The Ebola outbreak, which surged in 2014, infected 27,443 people in Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia, and killed 11,207. Though the rates of infection have dropped and the epidemic has been controlled, a faster diagnostic test could be crucial to preventing further, similar outbreaks.