(GINA) The Ministry of Health is on high alert and has instituted a number of measures in light of the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. The Ministry has been conducting awareness sessions with various personnel at the Cheddi Jagan International airport (CJIA) including: port health workers, customs, and immigration and airline staff.
Guyana was alerted by the World Health Organisation (WHO) of the Ebola outbreak that commenced late last year, and which has hit West African countries such as: Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria, and Sierra Leone.
Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Shamdeo Persaud said that while there are no reported Ebola cases in South America and the Caribbean, any instance of this disease at this point in time would be as a result of travellers.
“We are looking at beefing up additional port health officers on duty so that all incoming flights would be monitored. We have already written through the airport authorities to all the airlines asking them to strengthen their sanitary controls of flights,” the CMO said.
This means that airlines have to prepare a general declaration for each arriving flight, a significant part of which, will relate to health. It will include the identification of any passengers on any flight who may be showing symptoms of Ebola.
Passengers who have passed through or are coming from West Africa (based on their passports and travel itineraries) will be properly screened.
Dr. Persaud said that “when we identify those persons, we would hold an interview with them to ensure that they are symptom-free.”
Ebola is described as a very aggressive disease; whereby symptoms manifest in a matter of days. In the initial stage, these symptoms may include: high fever, excessive muscle aches, sweating, weakness, headaches, sore throat, and hoarseness. In the second phase, affected persons may experience tell tale signs such as: vomiting, diarrhoea and skin rash.
Meanwhile, the latter stage includes symptoms such as: bleeding and organ failure. The CMO assured that once these signs are detected, the Ministry has measures in place to ensure that the disease, which is spread through direct contact, is contained.
There is a port health office at the CJIA; however, the Ministry is working to establish an area that could be identified as an isolation area where additional measures can be put in place.
“We are depending heavily on the flight declarations to identify persons with fever. Rarely someone with an Ebola infection would endure a flight of four hours and more and not manifest symptoms suggestive of the disease,” the CMO said.
Health workers are a high-risk group as they will be tasked with caring for persons affected with the disease. As such, they were trained on the use of personal protective equipment. Moreover, personnel at most hospitals were administered training on how to properly outfit themselves in the protective gear.
“Ebola is spread by direct contact so personal hygiene is critical… we are focused on training health workers on the safer handling of body fluids such as blood, sweat, urine and sputum,” the CMO said.
Additionally, precautionary advisories will be distributed to travellers who are going to or will be passing through countries in West Africa. This will be done through travel agents and at the airport.
Under the Ministry’s infection control programme, hospital staff were trained in the proper disposal of equipment and other materials used to treat persons with infectious diseases such as gauze and injections. These programmes are ongoing.
Many countries have put out restrictions to travel to the Ebola-affected West African countries; however, since Guyana does not have direct flights to those destinations, those measures have not been instituted at this point in time.
The CMO explained that most persons coming to Guyana from Africa have to transit through the US or Europe, where strict screening measures are already in place.
“In terms of transmission from the US to Guyana, because of the control measures that the US has, we are confident that there is a low possibility that someone from Guyana can come into contact with someone with this disease at this point in time, but we do have our control measures,” he assured.
Once affected persons would have made a full recovery from Ebola, they can return to normal life, since transmission occurs when the virus is active.
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the 2014 Ebola outbreak is one of the largest in history and the first in West Africa.
As of August 19, the CDC recorded 2,240 cases (including 1,383 laboratory-confirmed cases) and 1,229 deaths.
The outbreak began in Guinea in December 2013, but was not detected until March 2014. Researchers believe that the first human case of the Ebola virus disease leading to the 2014 outbreak was a two-year-old boy who died December 6, 2013 in the village of Meliandou, Guéckédou Prefecture, Guinea.
His mother, three-year-old sister and grandmother then became ill with symptoms consistent with Ebola infection and died. People infected by those victims spread the disease to other villages.
Ebola is transmitted from primates to humans; thus far, researchers have shown that the deadly strain of the virus is only present in primates in Africa. A milder strain of the virus was found in primates in parts of China and the Philippines.
There have been no report of South American primates having any virus similar to Ebola, but tests are ongoing in South, Central and North America.