World Health Organization Approves 15-Minute Ebola Detection Test

As the epidemic winds down, this is good news for keeping the virus under control

Ebola Standard Test

Lab technicians test samples for the Ebola virus in Liberia using the standard test method.UNMEER via Flickr By CC 2.0

Today, the World Health Organization gave the green light to doctors in West Africa to use the first ever rapid test for diagnosing the Ebola virus.

Until now, the standard way to check for Ebola in the region was to use the nucleic acid test, which works by identifying the genetic materials of the virus from a blood sample. Yet the test requires a full lab to succeed, and it takes between 12 to 24 hours to process the results. In comparison, the ReEBOV Antigen Rapid Test gets the job done in 15 minutes by testing a patient's blood for Ebola's antigen protein, which is distinguishable from other healthy proteins found in the body.

The rapid test isn't as precise as the full lab test, but it can still identify 92 percent of people infected with Ebola and 85 percent of those without the infection. This way, the quick test can easily identify who should at least enter quarantine, thus putting a damper on potential flare-ups. However, WHO does recommend following up the rapid test with a regular one to better assess if a patient has the infection.

As the epidemic dissipates, being able to clearly distinguish Ebola from other diseases with similar symptoms will be key. Over the next few years, animals may reintroduce the virus to humans, and it will be important for health care providers to quickly identify which diseases they are dealing with: Is it a routine case of malaria, or Ebola? With this test, they'll have a good idea before things get worse.