Ebola kills victims at frightful pace, with some outbreaks having mortality rates over 90%. The current west Africa Ebola outbreak has killed over 70% of all known infected patients. To stop the contagion requires a very capable health system - from epidemiologists to water-sanitation officers to doctors and nurses. Yet these front-line Ebola fighters are themselves in harm's way, with almost 500 health-care workers killed by this current outbreak.
So even if a fantastic scientific outbreak occurs to furnish us with a high quality rapid diagnostic test for Ebola, it won't be 'perfect' enough to remove the higher bio-safety precautions necessary in clinics and hospitals. Rapid diagnostic tests can look like the do-it-at-home urine pregnancy tests sold all over, to simple gum swabbing tests that are now available for HIV or simple finger-prick tests that are commonly used by diabetic patients.
Whatever form this putative Ebola rapid diagnostic test takes, however, will not remove the need for high degrees of personal protection for health worker and high levels of suspicion. A pregnancy test that's only 90% sensitive is not ideal - but it's also not immediately life threatening (a repeat pregnancy test in couple of weeks should be more accurate as hormone levels increase). On the other hand, an Ebola test that's only 90% sensitive and used as a screening tool in a non-ebola treatment hospital may let slip in some patients with Ebola (i.e false negative tests). And the lack of proper personal protective equipment in these non-Ebola hospitals would endanger health workers slackened by bio-safety complacency.
So whatever new tools come down the pipeline, one thing that will remain is a high level of Infection Prevention and Control (IPC) in the medical world after this current Ebola outbreak ends (hopefully soon!). Much like the HIV outbreak taught us about universal precautions, instilling a disciplined approach to hand-washing, gloving and splash-protection, this Ebola outbreak should leave us with a much higher baseline protection for health workers.
But since it's not so easy to spend a whole day in these space suits, the other hammer that should drop should be innovations in personal protection equipment.