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Analysis: Ebola test urgent amid globalism

Posted by tumicrobiology on March 24, 2006



A rapid, inexpensive blood test that can identify 10 viral hemorrhagic diseases, including the Ebola virus and yellow fever, has been developed by researchers at the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University. The measure is being used in a surveillance capacity at the current time, and will be available for both stationary and mobile laboratory use once a commercial partner can be found. “Global travel and global trade means that everything goes everywhere,” W. Ian Lipkin, director of the Greene Infectious Disease Laboratory at Mailman, told United Press International. “SARS proved that. It started in China and moved to Toronto. While most of these diseases are endemic to Africa, a case of Ebola virus was diagnosed five years ago in Reston, VA after a shipment of animals arrived from the Philippines,” he said. Lipkin noted that the new test developed by the Columbia researchers marks an important breakthrough in battling the cadre of exotic-sounding, but increasingly well-traveled maladies. “Diagnosis and isolation are the key to stopping an outbreak. Up until now there were no good tests for any of these problems and the disease had to become full blown before it could be recognized,” he said. “Now we can test sick people who have recently traveled in an area where a disease is endemic, or handled animals from that area, and make a diagnosis before they have a chance to spread the virus,” Lipkin said. According to a MSPH, the research team that devised the new test was led by Thomas Briese and represented an international coalition of laboratories from the United States, Canada, Europe, South Africa, India and China, the same group that first worked together on the SARS outbreak in 2003. The group decided to stay together and tackle other global health problems, and the test for hemorrhagic fevers is the result. Diagnostic tests for diarrheal diseases and meningitis/encephalitis are being developed, and the respiratory virus test developed for SARS and other viral respiratory pathogens is also in use. The new test that emerged from the collaboration takes two hours to simultaneously diagnose a virtual plethora of deadly pathogens, including yellow fever, Ebola Zaire virus, Ebola Sudan virus, Marburg virus, Lassa virus, Rift Valley fever, Crimean-Congo hemorrhagic fever, Hantaan virus, Seoul virus and Kyansanur Forest disease. A combination of technologies, including polymerase chain reaction, genetic amplification and mass spectroscopy, are involved, but the cost of the test is only $5 to $10. Lipkin told UPI that all the hemorrhagic diseases covered by the test are fatal, quickly become epidemic in humans and their early symptoms all resemble mild flu. He noted that the animal connection was an important one because 70 percent of all infectious diseases (such as HIV, Lyme disease and West Nile virus) begin in animals and jump to humans, including the viruses that the new test covers. Rona Hirschberg, senior program officer at NIAID, told UPI that the technology, if available decades ago, could have changed the course of history in the battle with another infamous filler. “If we had known about HIV in chimps back in the seventies, we would have had diagnostic tests and possible treatments ready and could have slowed the epidemic,” Lipkin responded. “The diseases our new test covers have already moved to humans, but being able to diagnose them quickly will allow us to stop them before they can devastate the world’s population the way HIV has done.” Briese, Lipkin and the coalition will describe their work in the April 2006 issue of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Emerging Infectious Diseases. Copyright 2006 by United Press International. All Rights Reserved.

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