Testing for Ebola - dummies

By Edward K. Chapnick

Symptoms alone don’t tell the story. The only way to know for sure if someone has Ebola is to test him for it. Several tests can detect both the virus itself and the antibodies that fight it. Testing must be done in a medical setting, because it involves blood draws and laboratory analysis.

It can take several days of symptoms before the test will show positive for Ebola because the virus initially lives in your organs. Then, after it progresses and grows enough, it enters the blood stream, which is when the testing can detect it.

If you suspect someone has Ebola, the protocol is fairly simple: You isolate the person (you can just put him in a separate room) and then call the health department for guidance.

The CDC’s guidance on suspected Ebola patients is to “identify, isolate, and inform.” This means that the first course of action is to identify exposure history to find out if the patient has been to a country with an outbreak or has been otherwise exposed to a known Ebola patient.

Then, healthcare workers must note the symptoms that someone is exhibiting to determine if they are indeed Ebola-like. The response and care protocols that follow depend on the assessment of both of those identification processes.

Three levels of response are used when addressing suspected or confirmed Ebola patients: isolation, quarantine, and monitoring.

  • If the patient has an exposure history and symptoms that are consistent with Ebola, he is isolated.

  • If the patient has an exposure history but no symptoms, he is either quarantined or monitored.