FLOOD OF ILLEGAL IMMIGRANTS DOESN’T ADD MUCH RISK
When it was put to Benson that even a rough tally of illegal immigrants in SA would suggest that our entry ports and borders were highly porous, he said this description could only be fairly applied to the country’s land borders. He said that because of SA and her immediate neighbours’ geographic distance from West Africa – and the sudden and severe nature of Ebola – it was “highly unlikely” that people with the virus would enter via admittedly porous land borders. This assessment is supported by at least one historical event locally and the known current non-African healthcare worker cases being treated in the US and Europe. The doctor who miraculously survived Ebola infection in 1996 after referring himself to a Johannesburg hospital after being f lown from his workplace in Libreville, Gabon, and entered SA via Lanseria Airport. Upon landing he was reported as suffering from an “unknown feverish illness” with jaundice. A nurse at the private Sandton clinic, who attended the surgery which he subsequently underwent, was infected and died.
Last month, a seriously ill American Ebola patient, Dr Ken Brantly, was evacuated from Liberia via a specially equipped medical plane to an Atlanta Hospital isolation ward – the f irst Ebola victim known to be on American soil. Just weeks later, a second American missionary, Nancy Writebol, was also evacuated from Liberia to a special isolation unit at Emory University Hospital. Both are being treated with an experimental drug, ZMapp, developed by the scientists who f irst discovered the
Ebola virus in 1976. The f i rst conf i rmed Ebola patient to be treated in Europe is an elderly Spanish priest airlifted from Liberia to a Madrid hospital after becoming infected during aid work.
Blumberg emphasised that her unit worked hand in glove with the Lanseria medical emergency evacuation outfits, adding that “we have a rigorous process, help with their evaluation and have lots of discussions with them. Sometimes it is not what it seems and they call us for advice.” She said temperature scanning at commercial airports had “major limitations”, because if an EVD patient was still incubating the virus and was asymptomatic, they won’t pick it up. “It’s one way to tell people that you’re actually doing something, but it’s not very effective. I mean with the SARS outbreak, millions of travellers were screened and they only picked up one or two – the yield is very low,” she said. HEALTHCARE WORKERS URGED TO BE ‘EBOLA-WISE’ Blumberg said that her unit received daily calls for advice on patients, affirming a “general awareness” among healthcare workers of viral haemorrhagic fevers i n SA where Congo Fever was endemic. Re-emphasising that one needed to touch or handle an Ebola-infected person or a body, suffer a needle-stick injury or be splashed in the eyes with their bodily f luids, she said it would be impractical and hugely expensive for her laboratory, the leading one of its kind in Africa, to test all the miners who were worried. She explained that by miners, she meant the hundreds of South African (and other non-West
Dr Frew Benson