The Investigators: 1-hour test for diagnosing Ebola still unused in New York

November 11, 2014 | SPH in the News

By Jim Hoffer

November 11, 2014

When Dr. Craig Spencer entered Bellevue Hospital three weeks ago, it took half a day to find out if he was indeed infected with the Ebola virus.

And at the time, we reported that it didn’t have to take that long. There is a one-hour test that The Investigators Jim Hoffer told you wasn’t being used. It wasn’t approved back then, and it still isn’t.

So why not?

You have to wonder what is taking New York health officials so long to get on board what the Food and Drug Administration, the Center for Disease Control and the Department of Defense have already approved for use.

The rapid-Ebola testing device is sitting on the shelf at Bellevue because state health officials have yet to approve its use. Now, 17 days after the hospital received the one-hour testing instrument, we asked New York City Department of Health Commissioner Mary Basett if the test will be ready to go for the next suspected Ebola patient.

“A more rapid test for Ebola, a test that we are looking into along with the New York state health department, which of course oversees the validation of any new diagnostic testing,” she said. “So it may prove very valuable to us, and we are looking into it.”

But she didn’t have insight when we asked how long that might take.

“Can’t answer that question,” she said. “That would be a question for the New York state health department.”

It’s the question we’ve been trying to get state officials to answer for two weeks, through repeated phone calls and emails. What we do know is that state health officials have had 17 days to OK what the federal government has already given emergency approval to use.

Every disease expert we’ve spoken to says the one-hour test would be hugely beneficial.

“Rapid diagnosis, when reliable, is the state of the art,” said Dr. Ayman El-Mohandes, dean of the CUNY School of Public Health. “And one way or the other, positive or negative, you want to know sooner rather than later.”

Bellevue was unable to use the rapid test to find out if a 5-year-old boy who recently returned from Guinea had Ebola. Instead, his family and the medical staff waited more than 12 tense hours to find out he did not have the potentially-deadly virus.

Dr. El-Mohandes says whether the results are positive or negative, time is critical.

“The sooner we know, the more assured the families and patients are,” he said. “And the community around them, and the more certain the person caring for the patient knows, one way or the other, and that’s important.”

It’s a mystery why the state health department has refused to answer any of our questions. Ebola is one of the most important health issues since AIDS, and keeping secret plans for testing only undermines the public’s confidence in the agency’s ability to handle the problem.

Originally published by