Ebola: Keeping a close watch
Ebola, a deadly hemorrhagic viral disease, is presently holding governments and medical authorities to ransom in three West African countries.
Gambian health authorities said they were “aware and monitoring” outbreak, but not without adding two chilling words: “serious and contagious.”
Its first outbreak in West Africa has killed some 83 people—out of 127 infected—in one week alone. The medical charity Doctors Without Borders called it “unprecedented”.
Previous outbreaks have been in Sudan, Congo, Uganda, since the virus first emerged as a threat in 1976, killings hundreds each time before petering out.
Now Ebola has crawled into Guinea, Gambia, Sierra Leone, Liberia and Nigeria’s greatest concern about the speed of the virus’ progress is to ensure that the virus does not sneak in through the country’s porous borders.
Nigeria’s proximity to its West African neighbours and the inevitability of cross-border travels is cause for worry and opportunity to reassure the population that it is “prepared to curtail any outbreak,” information minister Labaran Maku announced after last Wednesday’s meeting of the Federal Executive Council where Ebola was on agenda.
“So far, there is nothing like Ebola fever in Nigeria and the council was reassured that every step has been taken to get our country ready just in case infected persons come into the country from our neighbouring countries which have unfortunately been reportedly affected,” Maku added.
Reports—later reported to be dengue fever—of a case forced Nigerian Centre for Disease Control to upgrade surveillance. Similar alert is sweeping across the sub-region.
Minister of State for Health Khaliru Alhassan has warned “Nigerian citizens travelling to these countries should be careful and should report any illness with the above symptoms to the nearest health facility.”
The warning is crucial. When it comes to Ebola, taking chances is deadly.
There are still many unanswered questions with the virus. It is transmitted from wild animals to humans—through handling, contact, bodily fluids—and spreads among human populations through contact.
According to the World Health Organisation, which compiles data on Ebola virus disease, outbreaks of EVD can achieve fatality rates of up to 90%--that is, of every 10 infected, nine actually die from the disease.
The Minister of Health, Professor Christian Onyebuchi Chukwu stressing the importance of being alert to any situation said, “No specific treatment or vaccine is available for use in people or animals” though several are being evaluated.
He hammered that only support treatment was available, which compounds the worries of many due to the high mortality level of the virus.
Once a person is infected, it takes 2 to 21 days for symptoms to show: sudden onset of fever, intense weakness, muscle pain, headache and sore throat, says WHO.
Next to follow: vomiting, diarrhoea, rash, impaired kidney and liver function, and in some cases, both internal and external bleeding. Symptoms are similar for most haemorrhagic fevers, hence some confusion with dengue and Lassa fevers.
People are infectious as long as their blood and secretions contain the virus, warns WHO.
Health authorities have spoken of readying medicines if the virus does jump into Nigeria. But treatment of patients severely ill with EVD focuses on fighting severe EVD caused dehydration with solutions and intravenous fluids to ensure rehydration and balance body electrolytes (the ions in your body that do everything: conduct energy, transport nutrients, support muscle and mental function, convert calories to energy).
The key is prevention and extreme caution with things normally taken for granted, and far different from tightened border checks.
Head of NCDC, Dr Abdulsalami Nasidi, has warned hunters against contact with bush meat killed in hunting and for the public to be “extraordinarily” careful with bush and smoked meat in line with riskreduction guidelines set forth by the WHO, to reduce animal-to-human transmission.
Reassuring Nigerians on the strategies put in place, Nasidi said, “Enhancing our surveillance in areas of high probability like forest areas; areas where they eat bush meat, areas where you have lots of bats and monkeys. Secondly, at this time anybody suffering from malaria or not malaria, would be closely monitored.
He continued, “Surveillance officers play a key role in the prevention of Ebola. They used to go to the bush and anywhere they see monkey dying, bats and some animals, they raise an alert, do their work there and nip it in the bud.
“I am not cautioning against bush meat intake. I am cautioning against the hunting, because those who hunt for it, process it, can get the disease. But those who eat smoked bush meat, not cooked one might get the virus. So eating the bush meat as it were; needs to be cooked. But those who process it, those who catch it and those who like eating it smoked, might end up with the virus.”
He added that it takes between 2,3,4 days to almost 21 days to see symptoms of the disease saying, “However, if you have the virus and you don’t have the symptoms like any normal person, you could pass the port protocol. But the moment you become ill and you’re arriving, the ports protocol will arrest you. That is what happened in Canada last week. A patient came from West Africa and had temperature. They didn’t wait to check whether its malaria, they just isolated him and started looking for symptoms of Ebola virus. So that’s how to raise red alert.”
To reduce risk of humanto-human transmission in the community arising from direct or close contact with infected patients, particularly with their bodily fluids, WHO warns close physical contact with Ebola patients should be avoided.
Gloves and appropriate personal protective equipment should be worn when taking care of ill patients at home and regular hand washing is required after visiting patients in hospital, as well as after taking care of patients at home.
For hygiene, it warns communities affected by Ebola should inform the population about the nature of the disease and about outbreak containment measures, including burial of the dead.
People who have died from Ebola should be promptly and safely buried.
There is no known cure or vaccine for Ebola.