World Health Organization Approves New 15 Minute Ebola Test

Faster and more portable, medical professionals hope this test will help reduce the number of people infected all the way to zero.

Photo via Wikimedia Commons

In the fight against Ebola, medical professionals have long asked for a test that can quickly and easily identify the deadly virus that has killed nearly 10,000 in western Africa.

The World Health Organization announced Friday that it has approved a new rapid test for Ebola, which gives results in 15 minutes. The new test, called ReEBOV Antigen Rapid Test, lives up to its name; it’s much faster than the standard laboratory test, which requires 12 to 24 hours for results, according to Reuters. And the new test is streamlined to use much less equipment: it’s simply a piece of paper and a test tube. With no electricity required to operate and its small size, the test can be carried and used in remote areas.

“It’s very similar to a pregnancy test,” Doug Simpson, who designed and produced the test at the Corginex Medical Corporation, told NPR. “A drop of blood is placed on the paper, and if two lines appear, then it's positive for Ebola.”

In the blood, the test is searching for the Ebola protein, rather looking for the genetic material of the virus, the nucleic acid, which is used in standard laboratory tests. As a result, the margin of error with the ReEBOV Antigen Rapid Test is slightly higher, but the Guardian reports that trials show it can correctly identify about 92 percent of Ebola-infected patients and clear 85 percent of those not infected with the virus.

Even though it’s not perfect, the rapid test will help doctors quickly identify the beginnings of an outbreak and quarantine the infected individuals. This also helps solve the problem of healthy people being quarantined while waiting for their results and getting infected during the waiting period.

NPR reports that the first shipments of the ReEBOV Antigen Rapid Test will go out to West Africa in about two weeks, because the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is required to give a final approval before the product can leave the U.S.

While the price tag for the rapid test is currently unknown, Simpson told NPR that it will cost far less than the current standard test for Ebola.

Due to the margin of error in the ReEBOV Antigen Rapid TEST, medical personnel will still need to conduct a backup standard test if someone tests negative, but according to U.S. News, Dr. Bruce Aylward, WHO’s assistant director-general, said “(the new test) might help us get to zero faster."

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