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  1. ITV Report

Ebola diagnosis breakthrough at Northumbria University

Researchers at Northumbria University have developed a quicker and easier way of detecting the Ebola virus, which caused over 11,000 deaths in West Africa in 2014.

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They say the discovery will make a huge difference for medical volunteers in the event of further outbreaks around the world.

A hospital in Liberia in 2015. Credit: Kay Nietfeld/DPA/PA Images

During the Ebola outbreak in Africa in 2014 patients tested for the disease had to provide a blood sample, which would have to be tested in a specialist laboratory by highly trained staff.

There are only a few such labs in the world, including Public Health England's in Porton Down.

It would also take between 5-8 hours to complete the test which detects the genome of Ebola virus, before a diagnosis could be confirmed.

It is hoped that the research at Northumbria University will help to save lives. Credit: PA

Now, a research team at Northumbria University, led by Dr Sterghios Moschos, has worked with a company to develop a new way of diagnosing the virus - EbolaCheck - which can be deployed to the scene of an outbreak.

It only needs an amount of blood that is 700 times smaller, literally a drop obtained by 'pin pricking' a finger, and it takes less than 70 minutes to complete.

As a result, the test is much safer to administer, requires minimal training and reduces the cost of diagnosis significantly.

Crucially, its performance is comparable to laboratory testing, meaning any patient with symptoms of Ebola can be safely and reliably diagnosed.

Members of the Red Cross of Guinea carry the body of a person who died from Ebola. October 2014. Credit: Kristin Palitza/DPA/PA Images

“During the Ebola outbreak, between 2013 & 2016, over 28,500 individuals contracted the disease with a mortality rate of 39.5%. These people often had to walk for hours to reach overflowing treatment centres, or wait for days for samples to be processed. Some were put at risk having to wait next to probable Ebola virus cases for an ‘all clear’- usually because the symptoms of other diseases, like malaria, made them fear they had the Ebola virus.

“The development of this pioneering technology could essentially save lives and reduce the spread of the disease, which is crucial in a humanitarian crisis. Due to there being no further cases since it was developed, to date, it has not been possible to take the test out of the lab, into the field, where the patient needs it. However, it can be deployed anywhere - the frontline in Africa where this disease is found, as well as international airports and ports - to help stop the disease from spreading and to prevent disruption of international trade and travel. It could also be used in the diagnosis of other infectious diseases, as well as bringing genetic testing to the shop front, for example in a pharmacy or a GP surgery.”

– Dr Sterghios A. Moschos, Northumbria University

What exactly is ebola?

The ebola virus. Credit: NHS

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), Ebola virus disease, to give it its full name, is an 'infectious often-fatal disease in humans caused by infection with Ebola virus.'

It originated in Africa, where there were outbreaks in 2014/15. It mainly affecting three countries in West Africa: Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

The main symptoms are diarrhoea, vomiting, a rash, stomach pain. The virus will go on to attack the kidneys and liver.

The patient will then bleed internally, and may also bleed from the ears, eyes, nose or mouth.

The disease is fatal in most cases but the sooner a person is treated the better the chances that they will survive.

The incubation period of the virus is anything from two to 21 days. That means an infected person can have Ebola for up to three weeks without showing symptoms.