1 August 2014
South Africans should not panic about the spread of Ebola virus disease to the country as every precaution is being taken to prevent this, Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi said in a statement this week.
West Africa is experiencing the worst outbreak of the disease in history – with more than 1 323 confirmed and suspected cases reported and 729 deaths in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone since March, the World Health Organisation reported on Thursday.
Cases have been confirmed in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea. The WHO estimates the current outbreak has a mortality rate of 56%. While outbreaks of Ebola are relatively common, health professionals are concerned about the size of the latest outbreak.
The majority of cases are confined to rural areas, but there has been a reported case of a man infected with the virus arriving by plane in Lagos. The man later died. This has raised concerns that international air travel may help spread the disease.
Motsoaledi said his department was closely monitoring the Ebola situation in West Africa and had taken the necessary steps to detect and treat cases if they arrived in South Africa.
Thermal scanners, which are able to detect travellers with raised temperatures, are installed at both OR Tambo International and Lanseria airports outside Johannesburg. Once identified, these travellers are assessed at the medical facilities at these airports.
“Our surveillance activities are extremely effective,” he said.
Motsoaledi said the National Health Laboratory Services and the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) had also intensified their surveillance at the laboratories.
When the latest outbreak, which began in Guinea, was announced in April, the Health Department and the National Institute for Communicable Diseases issued an alert to all South Africa’s ports, provinces and the Civil Aviation Authority.
The alert aimed raise the detection levels of travellers who may be displaying symptoms or signs of infection. Health care workers were also informed to be extra vigilant when managing patients who have a travel history to West Africa.
“The department has been monitoring the EVD outbreak through updates provided by NICD, Promed, World Health Organisation and the United States Centre for Disease Control and Prevention,” the Health Department said.
“Outbreak response teams were alerted to be prepared to respond in the event a suspected case was identified in the country,” said the department.
Key facts about Ebola: WHO
- Ebola virus disease (EVD), formerly known as Ebola haemorrhagic fever, is a severe, often fatal illness in humans.
- EVD outbreaks have a case fatality rate of up to 90%.
- EVD outbreaks occur primarily in remote villages in Central and West Africa, near tropical rainforests.
- The virus is transmitted to people from wild animals and spreads in the human population through human-to-human transmission.
- Fruit bats of the Pteropodidae family are considered to be the natural host of the Ebola virus.
- Severely ill patients require intensive supportive care. No licensed specific treatment or vaccine is available for use in people or animals.
For more information, see the WHO’s Ebola Fact Sheet
SAinfo reporter and SAnews.gov