With the current Ebola outbreak in West Africa, efforts have increased to find a new rapid test that can detect the virus quickly. Corgenix Medical Corporation is currently extending its rapid test development for viral hemorrhagic fever (VHF) to include the Ebola virus. Corgenix already has a fast test for the Lassa fever virus, which is also part of the VHF group of viruses.
Corgenix is working with Tulane University, Scripps Research Institute, and Autoimmune Technologies under a grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to develop the test.
Current Ebola testing requires biohazard handling, and frequently samples must be sent out of West Africa for processing, resulting in delays of several days before a positive diagnosis can be made and treatment started. The Lassa virus test is highly accurate and takes only 15 minutes, which allows early treatment that is the key to survival.
Robert Garry, PhD, Principal Investigator of the Viral Hemorrhagic Fever Consortium (VHFC) says this outbreak reinforces the importance of developing and testing a rapid Ebola test. Patients demonstrating fevers need to be screened for both Lassa and Ebola, since both have similar symptoms.
Lassa hemorrhagic fever spreads through infected rodents and infects 300,000 to 500,000 people across the region, causing at least 5,000 deaths annually. Lassa virus has a 26 to 50 percent mortality rate during epidemics.
Ebola is transmitted through several animal species, and spreads among humans through close contact with others infected by the virus. Ebola is one of the deadliest viruses in the world, with mortality rates of 50 to 90 percent. The virus kills within 2 weeks. Getting test results back quickly is the key to saving lives according to Douglass Simpson, Corgenix President and CEO.
A rapid Ebola test has also been under development at Uganda’s Makerere University, under a Canadian Grant. The project, which is working on a paper test kit, began in July, 2013, and is scheduled to go through the end of 2014.
Misaki Wayengera, the Unganda study’s project leader, says the rapid test is a critical part of quickly identifying victims of Ebola outbreaks, and quarantining them to prevent the spread of the virus. The paper strip test under development would limit the dangers of transporting bio hazardous and contagious samples that could lead to further infection.
The paper strip test would react with a small blood sample from a finger stick. Within two to five minutes the color of the strip would change if the test is positive.
The March, 2014, Ebola outbreak started in Guinea, and cases in neighboring Liberia and Sierra Leone are suspected. This outbreak shows that, even though rare, Ebola is still a major public health concern.
There is no known treatment for Ebola and no vaccine. All care centers are able to do for patients is to try to alleviate discomfort with intravenous fluids and fever control. Development of a rapid diagnostic test for the Ebola virus would help identify and isolate these patients more quickly, to try to prevent the virus from spreading further.
By Beth A. Balen