A new rapid test for Ebola has received emergency approval from the Federal Drug Administration and should be available soon for use in affected areas, said Robert Cross, a researcher at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston.

The kit was developed by Corgenix, a medical diagnostic research company, and tested using live Ebola virus in high containment conditions at the Galveston National Laboratory, Cross said.

Follow-up field studies were conducted in Sierra Leone this November by Cross and other medical branch researchers.

“The test is a simple pinprick to the finger, captured on a test strip, which works something like a home pregnancy kit. Development time is between 10 and 15 minutes, instead of the current test which takes up to eight days to confirm the virus,” he said.

Having a quick, dependable method to test patients for Ebola means a faster diagnosis and earlier treatment. It is also important to know when a person does not have Ebola.

“If a patient presents with fever, diarrhea, or profuse sweating, they could have malaria or another fever, or it could be the early stages of Ebola. A quick test minimizes the risk of putting a patient with malaria into an Ebola isolation ward,” he said.

Follow-up testing with conventional measures still is necessary to confirm the disease.

The reason standard laboratory testing takes so long in West Africa is that affected villages are remote and there are few testing centers, Cross said.

As more nursing stations are established and blood is collected, the samples are sent to testing centers, but there are so many tests waiting that it takes time for the samples to be run, he said.

The University of Texas Medical Branch has been working with Tulane University for years under the direction of Dr. Robert Garry, a longtime collaborator with Thomas Geisbert, an internationally recognized Ebola researcher at the medical branch.

Garry heads the Fever Consortium, founded by Tulane, and operates a field site for medical research on Lassa fever in Sierra Leone. This is where medical branch researchers did field testing of the new kit.

“When you’re in Sierra Leone, it’s obvious that they are dealing with a crisis.

There are hand-washing stations every five feet and the schools are closed to prevent person-to-person infection.

How people interact with each other has changed, for example, handshaking has been eliminated, and in some places, curfews are enforced,” Cross said.

Despite the burden of such a deadly disease, Cross said he had never before witnessed such fervor and dedication by medical and scientific teams in their efforts to put an end to the disease.

“It’s one of the poorest places in the world and they don’t have the infrastructure to deal with such a crisis. However, over the last year, there’s been a lot of education and people living there are more aware of the proper precautions,” Cross said.

“Diagnostic tests, new vaccines and treatments are coming. With the assistance of public health infrastructure, things are going to get a lot better,” he said.

The role of the Galveston National Laboratory is to provide support to research entities, including private partners and universities, in the management and testing of extremely dangerous pathogens.

The quality of the testing conducted by the Galveston laboratory was at least partially responsible for the speedy FDA approval, and that’s important to him, Cross said.

“There’s less in the news now about the Ebola crisis, but it’s definitely still happening, he said.

“It may be fading from public concern, but it never goes out of my mind.”