The World Health Organization (WHO) has approved the first rapid diagnostic test for Ebola. The test needs no electricity, requires just a few drops of blood from a finger prick, and can return results in 15 minutes. That will be a huge help to health workers in remote areas.
Current PCR-based tests require a blood sample taken by needle, secure transport of the blood to a properly equipped laboratory with trained staff, and at least several hours to return results. Depending on how far away a suspected case is from a testing laboratory, it can take more than a day to receive test results.
The new test, produced by Corgenix, a company in Broomfield, Colorado, uses antibodies to identify a specific Ebola virus protein. The list price will be about $15 per test, says Robert Garry, a hemorrhagic disease expert at Tulane University in New Orleans, Louisiana, who helped develop the test. But discounts will be available, he says, for bulk purchases and suppliers for use in Africa.
In its announcement, WHO said that the test correctly identifies 92% of infected people and 85% of uninfected ones. The test will need to be backed up by PCR tests, Garry agrees. “A rapid test is always going to be a screening test,” he says. “And no diagnostic can replace a health care worker’s judgment.”
The number of Ebola cases has declined since the height of the epidemic in September and October. But in Guinea and Sierra Leone, dozens of new cases continue to appear each week, many of which are not connected to known chains of transmission. The rapid test will be helpful in rapidly identifying new hotspots, Garry says.
*The Ebola Files: Given the current Ebola outbreak, unprecedented in terms of number of people killed and rapid geographic spread, Science and Science Translational Medicinehave made a collection of research and news articles on the viral disease freely available to researchers and the general public.