Rapid Ebola test makes progress

Jun 26, 2015, 1:21 PM EDT
A health worker prepares a vaccination on March 10, 2015 at a health center in Conakry during the first clinical trials of the VSV-EBOV vaccine against the Ebola virus.

One of the challenges facing medical workers in African regions plagued by swiftly-spreading Ebola is the inability to test for the disease in a patient in a short amount of time. Timeliness is crucial with Ebola as it is so easily spread. Researchers have developed a rapid test that they believe will accurately indicate whether or not a patient has Ebola within minutes. CBS News reports:

A new rapid-detection test that diagnoses Ebola within minutes could improve treatment of the deadly virus and help health care workers contain outbreaks, researchers say.
Harvard Medical School researchers found the rapid diagnostic test as sensitive as traditional lab tests that can take days to produce results. The findings suggest this diagnostic tool could be a potential game-changer in the fight against Ebola, the researchers said.
In the West African countries hardest hit by Ebola -- Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone -- more than 11,000 people have died from the virus since late 2013. Although experts say the worst is over, some new cases continue to surface.
In order to contain Ebola, it's critical for doctors to quickly differentiate between patients who are infected with the virus and patients with other illnesses that cause similar symptoms. Conventional lab tests require drawing blood and disposing unsafe needles and syringes. The blood must be transported to a lab, potentially exposing more people to the Ebola virus along the way. Results of these tests may not available for several days.
While patients await these tests results, they are confined to "holding" areas. This means people who don't actually have Ebola may be exposed to it, the researchers pointed out.
"Simplifying the process and speeding up diagnosis could have a major impact," study senior author Nira Pollock, associate medical director of the Infectious Diseases Diagnostic Laboratory at Boston Children's Hospital, said in a Harvard news release.
"Laboratory results can sometimes take days to return," Pollock said in a statement. Such delays can mean failure to diagnose and treat Ebola-infected patients, but might also lead to people without Ebola being admitted to holding units and inadvertently exposed, she added.
"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," Pollock said.
The test detects the Ebola virus VP40 matrix protein in blood and can be used either with a fingerstick sample or with whole blood collected through venipuncture.