Detecting Ebola within minutes: A treatment and containment game changer


Tests for detecting Ebola in the blood can take anywhere from 12 hours to four days to yield results. But a recent study published in The Lancet reveals that a new point-of-care test can accurately determine results in mere minutes—another step toward potentially controlling the spread of Ebola.

Nira Pollock, MD, PhD, senior author of the paper and associate medical director of the Infectious Diseases Diagnostic Laboratory at Boston Children’s Hospital, along with researchers from Harvard Medical School and Partners In Health, showed that a commercially developed rapid diagnostic test (RDT), called the Corgenix ReEBOV Antigen Rapid Test kit, was as sensitive as a conventional laboratory-based method used for clinical testing during the recent outbreak in Sierra Leone.

“Laboratory results can sometimes take days to return. 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,” Pollock told The Lancet.

In a study of 106 suspected Ebola patients admitted to two treatment centers in Sierra Leone, researchers compared the accuracy of the new test to the standard laboratory test. The RDT identified all confirmed cases of Ebola that were positive by the standard test and even detected cases the lab failed to identify; however, both the RDT and the standard test were negative in some samples with very low amounts of virus.

“While the test did perform very well in our study, more research is needed to better understand the test’s performance characteristics in various testing scenarios, particularly in patients with very low viral loads,” said Pollock.

Much of Pollock’s work is focused on developing better diagnostics for infectious diseases, particularly those that take a heavy toll on health. Previously, she was involved in the design of a point-of-care liver toxicity test, a paper-based device that measures liver enzyme levels in blood from patients receiving HIV and/or TB therapy.

So far, the new test is the only Ebola rapid diagnostic test to receive emergency use authorization from both the World Health Organization and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration; however, it has not been deployed in the field as of yet.