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Ebola Rapid Diagnostic Kit Developed by UK Scientists in Sierra Leone

A rapid Ebola diagnostic kit similar to a pregnancy kit has been developed by British military scientists and NHS medics in Sierra Leone.

It can be administered at the bedside and return its first results within 20 minutes, slashing dramatically the normal 24-hour turnaround for lab results.

Early bedside tests in the Connaught hospital in Freetown have shown a 100% detection rate, said Dr Oliver Johnson, who heads a partnership between the UK’s King’s Health Partners and the hospital.

“We have 10,000 of these kits sitting in Sierra Leone waiting to go if we can get the approval,” says Johnson.

Johnson says if the kit is approved by the relevant health authorities it could transform the admissions process, allowing doctors to quickly isolate Ebola patients and release others for treatment.

“It would mean patients who don’t have Ebola could be prioritised and go straight to surgery or referred for further treatment to general wards. Ebola symptoms are so similar to other illnesses like malaria, even appendicitis,” he said.

It would also help in ruling out Ebola in women who are about to give birth, which would reduce the perceived risk in obstetric deliveries, Johnson said.

The kit has been developed by the UK’s defence, science and technology lab and been tested by Kings Sierra Leone Partnership (KSLP).

It works in the same manner as a urinary pregnancy test, with a drop of blood drawn across some filter paper.

KSLP says it is similar to a antigen rapid test recently approved by the World Health Organisation, but early tests show it outperforms with a “sensitivity of 100%” according to a research paper published on Friday by Eurosurveillance.

All equipment for the rapid diagnostic test (RDT) was provided in individually packaged test kits. Capillary blood for the RDT was obtained using a sterile lancet to prick a finger. Blood was applied to the well of the lateral flow device with a small pipette, followed by three drops of buffer. After 20 minutes the RDTs were read in designated areas with good lighting and scores were obtained with the aid of a scorecard.

Although the numberof Ebola cases was down to 33 in the last week of official figures compared to more than 550 at its peak in November, it remains a huge concern in the country.

“Frankly, until we have zero cases for 42 days we can’t say it’s been eliminated. The country is still like dry tinder in terms of a spark going off,” said Johnson.

He said a lockdown in the country is designed to “keep the public focussed” on the possible dangers. With the falling figures there is risk of growing complacency, the government has said.

In one recent case a fisherman escaped from a quarantined area in Freetown and returned to his family in rural Sierra Leone, causing 31 new infections.

The Ministry of Defence announced on Friday that the Royal Fleet Auxillary ship, Argus, was returning to the UK six months after it arrived in Freetown to offer logistical support involving helicopters and royal marines.

Some 300 military personnel will remain in Sierra Leone including logisticians, planners and medics.

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