There is no need for South Africans to panic about the Ebola outbreak in West Africa “as all precautions are being taken to prevent the virus”, according to the Department of Health.
Ebola has killed over 670 people in four West African countries since March, and Médecins sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) has described the epidemic as “out of control.”
The epidemic started in Guinea, then spread to Sierra Leone and Liberia. Last Friday, a man who had travelled to Lagos on a flight from Liberia died of Ebola in hospital in the city. The Nigerian government has since shut the hospital and is tracking down passengers on his flight.
“Our surveillance activities are extremely effective,” said Minister Aaron Motsoaldi
Health spokesperson Joe Maila said the Department of Health’s response involved “informing all stakeholders (both public and private) of the ebola outbreak and requesting that they increase their surveillance activities” and “sensitising all outbreak response teams of the outbreak and the risks of imported cases entering South Africa”.
“Outbreak response teams were alerted to be prepared to respond in the event a suspected case was identified in the country,” said Maila.
The Environmental Health Directorate, Port Health authorities, Civil Aviations Authority (CAA) and provinces have all been informed of the signs and symptoms of ebola since the first report in March Guinea.
The CAA convened a meeting with stakeholders on 9 April 2014 to alert them of the outbreak and address challenges that might be experienced, according to the department.
“All the stakeholders in the aviation industry were briefed on the Ebola situation in West Africa. The risks and the steps to mitigate the risks of importing an infected person into South Africa were discussed,” said Maila.
OR Tambo International and Lanseria Airports in Johannesburg have thermal scanners that detect travelers with raised temperatures. These travellers, when identified, are assessed at the medical facilities at these airports.
All health care workers in public and private have been informed to be on high alert for travellers who have visited West Africa. The National Health Laboratory Services and the National Institute for Communicable Diseases have also intensified their surveillance at the laboratories.
Ebola is a highly infectious virus that is transmitted in bodily fluids. The fatality rate is around 90 percent. Symptoms include high fever and joint aches, followed by vomiting, diarrhea and internal bleeding.
An edited version of this article first appeared in The Mercury newspaper.