The deadly Ebola disease can now be tested on the spot. A new blood test can detect the disease within minutes and is as accurate as the most widely-used laboratory-based test. Results from patient trials show that a point-of-care Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) test is faster than and as sensitive as a conventional lab-based molecular method used for clinical testing during the recent outbreak in Sierra Leone.
Up till now testing EVD required a lengthy process to confirm if a patient had contracted the disease, but now with the advent of the new rapid diagnostic test (RDT) officials can help identify case contacts, and ultimately curb the spread of Ebola, according to the research published in The Lancet journal.
The current method of diagnosing involves a full vial of venous blood to be shipped to a laboratory with a high level of biosafety and staff expertise for testing by real-time reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR). Researchers claim that this method poses substantial risks to the healthcare workers responsible for blood collection, transport, and testing, and efforts to contain the Ebola epidemic in West Africa have been hampered by this slow and complex diagnostic test.
Dr Nira Pollock, senior author and Associate Medical Director of the Infectious Diseases Diagnostic Laboratory at the Boston Children’s Hospital, US, stated that “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,” said Pollock. “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.”
Diagnostic accuracy of the new RDT was compared against the benchmark RT-PCR test being used for clinical diagnosis in the field reference laboratory run by Public Health England at Port Loko in Sierra Leone.
In Sierra Leone, in February 2015, 106 suspected Ebola patients were tested by both RDT (performed in a finger stick blood sample at the point of care) and RT-PCR (performed in plasma in a laboratory). Both the RDT and RT-PCR were also performed in 284 samples in the lab. The RDT successfully detected all confirmed cases that were positively diagnosed by RT-PCR.
This is a huge step forward for detecting the Ebola Virus on the spot.