WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. health regulators on Wednesday authorized the use of an Ebola diagnostic test developed by the Pentagon to help contain the world’s worst outbreak of the deadly virus.
The move was one of a number of steps taken by the U.S. government this week to address the highly contagious disease that has killed more than 930 people in Africa and sickened hundreds more, including two Americans being treated in Atlanta.
The diagnostic test was authorized for use abroad on military personnel, aid workers and emergency responders in laboratories designated by the Department of Defense to respond to the Ebola outbreak, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said.
The test, called DoD EZ1 Real-time RT-PCR Assay, is designed for use on individuals who have symptoms of Ebola infection, who are at risk for exposure or who may have been exposed. It can take as long as 21 days for symptoms to appear after infections.
The agency can evoke emergency authorization for a medical product it has not approved when there are no adequate alternatives.
There is no known cure for Ebola, a hemorrhagic fever that has overwhelmed rudimentary healthcare systems and prompted the deployment of troops to quarantine the worst-hit areas in the remote border region of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. The World Health Organization is meeting in Geneva to consider declaring an international health emergency.
U.S. health officials met on Monday in Washington with Guinea President Alpha Conde and senior officials from Liberia and Sierra Leone to discuss the crisis and identify what kind of help they most needed, a State Department official said.
Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell and Dr. Tom Frieden, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, met with the leaders on the sidelines of an African Summit.
Frieden was to testify on Thursday at a congressional subcommittee hearing on “Combating the Ebola Threat,” along with representatives from the State Department’s Africa bureau and the U.S. Agency for International Development.
At a news conference after the summit, President Barack Obama said he did not have enough information to green-light a promising drug to treat Ebola and that the initial response should focus on public health measures to contain the outbreak.
“We’re focusing on the public health approach right now, but I will continue to seek information about what we’re learning about these drugs going forward,” Obama said.
Two Americans, a doctor and a missionary, were being treated in Atlanta after having contracted the disease in Liberia. The relief groups that sponsored the Americans said their conditions improved in Liberia after they received an experimental drug developed by a San Diego-based private biotech firm and previously tested only in monkeys.
In New Jersey, a patient was being tested for Ebola because of flu-like symptoms after recent travel to West Africa, state health officials said on Wednesday. The patient has been improving and Ebola was unlikely, they said.
Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City said on Wednesday that a patient being treated for a high fever and a stomach ache in strict isolation following his travels in West Africa tested negative for the disease.
USAID said it would send a disaster response team, which will include staff from HHS and the CDC, to West Africa to help coordinate Washington’s efforts.
The aid agency is also adding $5 million in aid to help international response efforts in the countries hit hardest by the outbreak.
The money will go to programs that help trace people infected with the disease and provide hygiene kits, soap, bleach, gloves and masks to help stem its spread.
“To really protect ourselves, the single most important thing we can do is stop it at the source in Africa,” Frieden said on CBS’s “Face the Nation” program on Sunday. “That’s going to protect them and protect us.”
Additional reporting by Bill Berkrot; Laila Kearney, Arshad Mohammed and Mark Felsenthal; Writing by Doina Chiacu; Editing by Michele Gershberg, Tom Brown and Eric Walsh