Last year’s Ebola outbreak has emphasized the importance of improving diagnosis at the point of patient-physician contact. In order to combat this disease, researchers tested the efficacy of a newly developed device for Ebola detection in patients in less than 37 minutes.
The Ebola epidemic of 2015 spread rapidly throughout Western Africa, and left health officials in search of more efficient and practical methods to detect the disease at the point of patient-physician contact. In isolated communities, the traditional method of sending specimens to a lab is time consuming and impractical. In such cases, having accurate and timely diagnoses that are easily accessible can improve decisions on quarantine and treatment, which may ultimately improve control and management of epidemics.
In a recently published article in Analytical Chemistry, researchers studied the application of a palm-sized, light-weight, battery-operated device than can accurately detect the Ebola virus in less than 37 minutes. This device uses the Reverse-Transcription Polymerase Chain Reaction method (RT-PCR). This is a diagnostic method recommended by the World Health Organization for Ebola diagnosis. RT-PCR converts the virus’s RNA (its genetic material) into DNA. The PCR method only works with DNA, and therefore this conversion from RNA to DNA is necessary. Following this conversion, the RT-PCR method multiplies the amount of genetic material, which allows for more accurate and reliable results with small sample sizes.
This method is important for epidemic management, as individuals who show no overt symptoms of the disease may have low levels of the virus in their system. This low viral load may not make them ill, but may make them carriers of the disease. This means they may pass the virus to others, thus contributing to its spread. As well, determining a patient’s viral load can be beneficial in determining the efficacy of a particular treatment.
The ability to accurately detect Ebola in a patient is critical in the event of future outbreaks. This study has shown that this new, small, and easy-to-use device provides accurate results that will be invaluable in disease diagnosis and treatment monitoring. This device seems to be a promising tool in the management of potential Ebola outbreaks in remote communities.
Written By: Nicole Pinto, HBSc