After the success of a large trial in West Africa, a new device that can diagnose infection with Ebola virus in just 15 minutes has been approved for use by the World Health Organization (WHO). It’s hoped that this new test will improve the rate of diagnosis in remote areas and also help infected people start urgent treatment faster.
The current Ebola crisis is harrowing—more than 23,250 cases of Ebola virus disease have been reported since the outbreak began just over a year ago in Guinea, and almost 9,500 people have died as a result of infection. Having spread like wildfire in West Africa despite international efforts to curtail the problem, it’s clear there is a need to identify cases faster so that contact with others can be limited, thus reducing the opportunity for further transmission.
Unfortunately, conventional tests are not ideal for the situation. They require laboratory equipment, and thus electricity, and trained staff to screen bodily fluids for bits of the virus’ genetic material, and it can take hours to get a result. While these screening procedures are highly accurate and therefore unlikely to miss a positive case, they are not ideally suited for remote locations or an infectious disease which requires rapid isolation and treatment.
The problem is also exacerbated by the fact that airport screening misses around half of infected travelers, according to a new report by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. That is in part due to the fact that many passengers do not honestly report their risk of exposure over fears of being prevented from flying.
A quick test that could be performed on the spot would therefore help alleviate these issues, and one has finally been approved by the WHO after a two-month trial in affected African countries.
Rather than looking for genetic material, the new test, which was developed by U.S. company Corgenix, detects viral proteins which can be picked up much faster. According to The Telegraph, the trial found that the test correctly identifies around 92% of positive cases. While this is less accurate than conventional tests, results are provided in just 15 minutes, which is at least six times faster. Furthermore, the test doesn’t require specialist training to conduct and can be performed in the absence of electricity.
These key features make it ideal for reaching remote communities in Africa, and also for screening people in airports. If more positive cases can be identified, they can be prevented from flying and also brought into isolation faster, leading to rapid onset of treatment. However, because the test has a higher risk of misdiagnosing, the WHO advises that positive individuals should be followed up with conventional testing.
[Via BBC News and The Telegraph]