By Caribbean News Now contributor
PORT-OF-SPAIN, Trinidad -- The Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA), the new single regional public health agency for the Caribbean, says the risk of the Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) being imported to the Caribbean is low.
Executive Director of CARPHA, Dr C. James Hospedales
Executive director of CARPHA, Dr C. James Hospedales said, “There have been no confirmed cases of Ebola in the Caribbean, and overall, the risk of becoming infected with the Ebola virus in this region remains low.”
He added that in countries where the virus is present, people who have direct contact with the organs, blood, or other bodily fluids of dead or living infected persons or animals are those at greatest risk.
Following an increase in the number of cases of Ebola in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone recently, and reported cases in Nigeria in the last few days, CARPHA evaluated the risk of importation of the disease to the Caribbean region, including the risk to Caribbean travellers in the affected areas in West Africa.
The current outbreak occurring in Africa affects four countries: Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria and Sierra Leone and, according to the World Health Organization in these countries, there have been 1,711 confirmed cases of EVD and 932 deaths as at August 04, 2014. This makes it the largest EVD outbreak ever reported, both in terms of cases and the geographical spread. As a result the World Health Organization is beginning a two day emergency meeting today to discuss new measures to tackle the Ebola virus.
“Ebola spreads through mucous and other body fluids or secretions such as stool, urine, saliva and semen of infected people. In the unlikely event of a person infected with Ebola travelling to the Caribbean, the available evidence shows that the risk of secondary transmission to direct close contacts (family or relatives) or in healthcare settings is still considered very low, if appropriate prevention measures are implemented. The risk from casual contact, such as shaking hands or sitting next to someone who is not displaying symptoms is also likely to be very low,” Hospedales explained.
Once basic precautions are followed, the risk of infection is considered to be “very low” for tourists, visitors or residents in the affected areas. These precautions include avoiding physical contact with patients showing symptoms or dead bodies and their bodily fluids, as well as avoiding unprotected sexual contact with a patient that has recently recovered from the disease.
As with any other imported disease, Ebola virus is causing a lot of concern in the region. In this regard, CARPHA is committed to supporting its member states to adequately prepare for potential cases and to implement the necessary steps to protect healthcare facilities, patients, healthcare workers and communities.
Meanwhile, the director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on Thursday he has activated the agency’s emergency operation center at the highest response level to help respond to the worst Ebola outbreak in history.
In testimony at a special congressional hearing, CDC director Dr Thomas Frieden said the CDC has more than 200 staff members in Atlanta working on the outbreak, and will soon have more than 50 disease experts in west Africa to try to contain the outbreak.
Although Frieden said it is possible that people who have traveled to west Africa might bring the virus back home with them, and even spread it to some healthcare workers and family members, he said, he is “confident there will not be a large Ebola outbreak in the United States”.
Frieden said it is not clear whether experimental treatments that were given to the two infected US aid workers now in the United States who are being cared for at Emory University in Georgia will ultimately be effective, and he emphasized that the best approach to this threat is to contain it.