Our Strongest Weapon Against Ebola Outbreaks is Battery-powered

River D'Almeida, Ph.D
4 min readApr 15, 2021

New portable Ebola detector is 1000x more sensitive than standard tests

Scanning electron micrograph of Ebola virus Makona (in red) from the West African epidemic shown on the surface of Vero cells (blue). Credit: NIAID

It starts with chills, aches and pains, feeling more tired than usual. Over the course of a week, these symptoms intensify: Red eyes, unexplained hemorrhaging and bleeding.

Ebola virus disease, though typically rare, has devastated communities in sub-Saharan Africa during outbreaks. As recently as February 2021, the Democratic Republic of Congo announced its 12th Ebola outbreak. The North Kivu province is bracing itself for another emergency situation like the outbreak that ran from 2018 to 2020; 3,470 cases were reported and 2,287 lost their lives.

The disease, first discovered in the 1970s, is caused by Zaire ebolavirus, a subset of Ebola viruses known to affect humans. It’s transmitted through direct contact with the blood, body fluids and tissues of infected people and animals. The virus is also known to persist in certain body fluids even after recovery from the illness.

Once inside the body, the virus ravages the immune system and destroys organs. Infection causes a sharp dip in the cells involved in blood clotting; as a result, infected individuals expereince severe, uncontrollable hemorrhaging. At this stage, the chance of survival is around 20 percent.

According to the experts, managing outbreaks and improving these bleak survival statistics is possible through early and effective testing. Ebola disease patients are highly contagious, so the earlier a positive diagnosis is made, the sooner the patient (and those they have had contact with) can be isolated.

Additionally, early interventions can be life-saving — treating patients with antibody-based Ebola therapeutics sooner can slash the fatality rate from 80 to just 10 percent.

However, in practice, early interventions are a major challenge. Firstly, clinically diagnosing infections is extremely difficult as the early symptoms of Ebola disease (fever, headache, feeling lethargic) mirror a multitude of other common conditions, like influenza or malaria, for instance.

Secondly, the current gold standard polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test requires specialized equipment and trained personnel to perform it — both…

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River D'Almeida, Ph.D

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