New faster diagnostic Ebola test may be game changer in combating spread of virus. Ebola is the viral disease, literally. It started as the largest outbreak of disease since its discovery in 1976, and even a year later, is still “on the loose”, though not at the epidemic levels that triggered global alarm in 2014.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO) over 11,000 deaths have occurred while there are 27,000+ confirmed cases. The three countries where the disease spread were Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea in Western Africa.
Ebola can spread from person-to-person through contact of infected bodily fluids and remains transmittable even after a person dies. In fact 20% of Ebola infections occur during the burial of the patients by friends and family.
Incubation period of the virus is up to 21 days and symptoms initially may consist of fever fatigue, headache, muscle pain and in the final stages some external or internal bleeding can occur. The virus has no cure so far and even testing for Ebola is tricky as it takes a long time for the lab results to come through.
Usually diagnosis consists of a full vial of blood being sent to a lab equipped with the necessary bio-safety level equipment and an experienced staff. The test used to determine Ebola is known as real time reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction or RT-PCR.
This not only puts the patients at risk for delayed treatment, but also poses a threat to those who handle the blood samples. Also, people who do not have Ebola can be exposed to it if they are admitted to units in which Ebola patients are being cared for.
Such delays have been blamed for the failure to control the epidemic. But a new method of diagnosing Ebola from just a drop of blood could help make a faster diagnosis and help in providing prompt treatment, helping to check the epidemic’s growth.
The ReEBOV Antigen Rapid Test was tested in a study to see its diagnostic accuracy. The Rapid Test kit tested 106 suspected Ebola patients admitted to two treatment centers in Sierra Leone, using the finger stick method. Confirmation was obtained by the RT-PCR being performed on plasma obtained from venous blood as well. In addition to the patients, 248 laboratory samples were also checked by both tests.
When compared with the benchmark real-time PCR test, the new test was able to confirm positive cases in not only the blood samples in the laboratory but also in point-of-care patients. The test had 100% sensitivity (identification of all patients with Ebola) and 92% specificity (identification of patients who didn’t have Ebola) in both types of samples.
Dr Nira Pollock, senior author explained in press release that laboratory tests could take days to process and such delays resulted in failure to diagnose Ebola in time. “This new test, on the other hand, is capable of detecting the Ebola virus in just a small drop of blood tested at the bedside, and could help us in the fight against Ebola.” She is also the Associate Medical Director of the Infectious Diseases Diagnostic Laboratory at the Boston Children’s Hospital, U.S. It is hoped that the new rapid diagnostic test could help reduce the time spent on the long process of diagnosing Ebola and ultimately help stop the spread of the viral disease. The study was published in the journal Lancet.