Johannesburg - Breaking the chain of transmission is key to stemming the Ebola outbreak that has hit West African countries, infecting 3 069 people and resulting in 1 552 deaths so far.
This was conveyed by the National Institute of Communicable Diseases’ (NICD) Professor Lucille Blumberg, head of the institute’s division of public health surveillance and response, during a discussion at the Wits School of Public Health on Friday, dissecting the viral outbreak.
The outbreak began in Guinea in December but was not detected until March. It spread to Liberia, Sierra Leone and Nigeria.
Ebola is caused by the Zaire Ebola virus. The haemorrhagic fever is transmitted to people from wild animals and spreads through direct contact with an infected person’s blood or bodily fluids.
The incubation period is between three and 21 days.
According to the World Health Organisation, it is characterised by the sudden onset of fever, intense weakness, muscle pain, headache and sore throat.
This is followed by vomiting, diarrhoea, rash, impaired kidney and liver function and, in some cases, both internal and external bleeding.
“The Ebola outbreak has been described as hopeless and helpless, but you can control an outbreak of Ebola,” Blumberg emphasised.
The chain of transmission was the most important to break. “It requires an intensive outbreak response which is more than some countries can manage,” she explained.
“Most of the affected countries face public health challenges and can hardly cope with their day-to-day needs. They really need outside help in the form of financial assistance.”
Blumberg said that to stem the outbreak, what was also needed was contact tracing, a collection of reliable data of how many people had been infected, and proper messaging in communities to educate people about the virus.
The national Department of Health’s Dr Frew Benson said the hysteria levels in the country as well as the rest of Africa had been unprecedented, but some lessons could be learnt.
“We need strengthened co-ordination at all levels, particularly at the borders. Countries should also ensure that epidemic preparedness is as important as a concerted multisectoral effort to control the outbreak,” he said.
A four-member NICD team deployed last month to deliver a mobile diagnostic laboratory in Sierra Leone to help fight the outbreak was doing well, according to Blumberg.
While South Africa has had at least two Ebola scares in the past weeks, Blumberg said: “There is a lot of concern, but if there was a case reported here, it would be contained at the first level.”