The KwaZulu-Natal Health Department has designated Addington as the only hospital in the province to deal with Ebola patients. Picture: S'bonelo Ngcobo

By Kamini Padayachee, Mpume Madlala, Lauren Rawlins and Bongani Hans

Durban - A suspected Ebola case had Addington Hospital on red alert on Wednesday as staff scrambled into protective gear and closed off entrances and wards to ready the facility to treat the incoming patient.

On Wednesday night KwaZulu-Natal Health MEC Sibongiseni Dhlomo confirmed that a patient had been brought to the hospital to be tested for the virus.

When asked if a blood sample had been taken because there was a suspicion of Ebola, Dhlomo would only say: “Yebo.” If it was confirmed as Ebola he would send a report to the national minister of health.

The MEC would not comment on where the man was from, what symptoms he had or how he could have contracted the virus.

On Wednesday a number of Addington staff contacted The Mercury to say they had been told that the patient was a man who had recently returned from Sierra Leone.

He was brought to Durban because the provincial Health Department had designated Addington as the only hospital in the province to deal with Ebola patients.

Social media forums also went into overtime as tweets and status updates began to fly that Durban had its first Ebola case.

“Ebola has reached Durban? I’m not even surprised,” read one tweet.

“Say this isn’t so,” said another.

The Health Department said in August that the hospital had an isolation ward with eight compartments, built in 2010, to deal with infectious diseases. It said staff had received theoretical training related to working with the virus and the 50 staff members, who would rotate in shifts of three hours, had received practical training.

On Wednesday three hospital entrances were sealed off to prevent possible contamination and staff were instructed to dress in their protective gear. The hospital entrances were closed while staff debated the best way to get the patient into the hospital without putting other patients at risk.

The children’s ward was one of those sealed off.

A hospital employee, who asked not to be named, said they were told about the patient at about midday.

“None of the hospital wards wanted to receive the patient as staff feared for their lives,” the employee said.

“When word got around as to what was happening, a number of staff decided to go home out of fear of coming into contact with the patient. Doctors even threatened to leave if the patient came through.”

The employee confirmed that the hospital was providing training on how to deal with Ebola but said her main concern was the protective gear.

The masks did not fit properly and staff were worried they could catch the virus through the openings in the protective gear.

“Everyone is worried about contracting Ebola and about being around this patient,” she said.

Another staff member said she was upset that she and other staff in the ward she worked in had not been informed about the patient.

She only realised that there was a possible Ebola case when she saw other staff members walking around with masks.

While the provincial Health Department said in August that it had a protocol in place to deal with Ebola patients, hospital staff said they felt unprepared.

 According to the World Health Organisation the incubation period is two to 21 days and the patient is not infectious until symptoms develop. First symptoms are the sudden onset of fever, fatigue, muscle pain, headaches and a sore throat.

This is followed by vomiting, diarrhoea, a rash, symptoms of impaired kidney and liver function and, in some cases, internal and external bleeding. Laboratory findings include low white blood cell and platelet counts and elevated liver enzymes.

Several African countries, including Sierra Leone, Liberia, Nigeria, Mali and Senegal, have been hit by Ebola outbreaks, and nearly 5 000 people have died.

The Mercury

* The NCID have responded to the above story. Read the update here: NCID denies KZN Ebola claim