Dallas Hospital Had Device That Could Have Correctly Diagnosed First U.S. Ebola Victim, But Wasn’t Allowed To Use It

BioFire Diagnostics

There’s an Ebola screening device called the FilmArray; manufactured by a company called BioFire, it’s being used by the U.S. military in West Africa — and now in the U.S. — to detect cases of Ebola with remarkable accuracy. There’s also a FilmArray at Dallas’ Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital, according to Defense One, and it’s been sitting there for possibly as long as the past two years.

The FilmArray is a small box (“toaster-sized,” according to Defense One) that, with the right “kit,” screens for a wide variety of illnesses, such as respiratory and gastro-intestinal diseases. It does this by identifying certain genetic markers through polymerase chain reaction tests — essentially taking the disease cells, breaking them open to expose the ribonucleic acid inside and then matching that with an already identified target, as a representative of BioFire told Defense One. This results in a diagnosis in under an hour. What’s more, the FilmArray can provide results of higher than 90 percent certainty.

According to BioFire, the system sells for around $39,000 and requires minimal training to use, while testing itself requires only 2 minutes of hands-on time.

The screening device was already at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas when Thomas Eric Duncan, the U.S.’s first Ebola patient, reported to the hospital with a fever on Sept. 25. However, the FilmArray wasn’t used because the FDA had only approved it for research; hospitals weren’t allowed to use the device to diagnose patients with Ebola or any other disease, nor were they allowed to use it to look for Ebola in samples. Federal guidelines prevented the hospital from obtaining the kit that would make the FilmArray a diagnostic tool.

Duncan was sent home from Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas despite having a fever and several other symptoms. After returning on Sept. 28, he was diagnosed with Ebola and isolated; he died on Oct. 8.

Now, however, the FDA has approved the FilmArray’s use for Ebola screening for research, and is allowing hospitals to buy the modifications needed for their systems to detect the Ebola virus.

Detecting Ebola early could prevent the spread of the disease; people who have contracted Ebola are not infectious until they begin showing symptoms, according to the World Health Organization, which also says that “early supportive care” improves a patient’s chances of survival.