An Essential Tool: Laboratory Diagnostics

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CDC laboratorian working with inactivated Ebola samples at the CDC field laboratory at ELWA 3, August 22, 2014. Photograph by Aphaluck Bhatiasevi, World Health Organization

Because it is hard to tell the difference between Ebola and other common infectious diseases such as malaria, Ebola can only be confirmed with laboratory diagnostics. Rapid and reliable lab testing for diagnosing suspected Ebola cases is central to controlling the disease. It is critical to patient care, to the initiation of contact tracing, and to the safe discharge of Ebola virus-free patients to their home communities.

When the Ebola outbreak in West Africa began in spring 2014, CDC’s laboratorians working in the Viral Special Pathogens Branch were well prepared with decades of experience in establishing and operating laboratories in low-resource settings. This includes setting up temporary “hot labs," where scientists wearing protective gear with powered air purifying respirators (PAPR) can work safely with patient samples.

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Handmade “Do Not Enter” sign by Brian Amman that hung by the entrance of the Bo hot lab

Kamara, Daddy Hassan

Daddy Hassan Kamara

Daddy Hassan Kamara discussing contact tracing and his experiences when Ebola spread through his family and community.

3. The Role of Science in the Epidemic
An Essential Tool: Laboratory Diagnostics