The new Ebola eZYSCREEN test / CEA

Current tests to diagnose the virus take hours in specialist laboratories

An Ebola test that can diagnose the virus in just 15 minutes could soon be shipped out to West Africa, where the disease has killed more than 4,500 people.

Current tests can only be conducted in laboratories with specialist equipment, taking up to two-and-a-half hours each, but a pregnancy test-sized kit developed by French scientists could dramatically speed up the process.

France’s Alternative and Atomic Energy Commission (CEA) said “Ebola eZYSCREEN” is designed to be used in the field, using only a drop of the patient’s blood, plasma or urine.

A prototype will be available to start clinical trials in West Africa by the end of the month.

“The rapid test has the advantage of providing an initial diagnosis of patients closer to the affected populations,” a CEA spokesperson said.

“It aims to facilitate the supply chain and decision-making process necessary for people on the ground. It would particularly reduce the number of tests needing to be carried out in a dedicated laboratory.”

The World Health Organisation has warned that there could be 10,000 new cases of Ebola a week by Christmas if it continues to spread, making quicker and easier diagnosis even more vital.

The test, which has not yet been approved by regulators, uses monoclonal antibodies to react to the presence of Ebola in a sample.

A box on the display confirms whether the test has worked and lines appear in a panel to confirm whether the result is positive or negative.

Development started in August at the Marcoule Nuclear Site, when the virus had already killed 1,500 people in the worst-affected countries.

It built on several years of research in the CEA’s programme fighting nuclear, biological, chemical, radiation and explosive threats, backed by France’s Ministry of Defence.

The new test has already been trialled in a high-security laboratory in Lyon using the strain of the disease currently spreading through Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

The kits will be produced by the French company Vedalab, which specialises in rapid diagnostic tests, after the relevant approvals are granted.