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Ebola screening teams at KK, Tawau

KOTA KINABALU - The idea of the Ebola virus disease (EVD) spreading to Sabah might be far-fetched but the Ministry of Health (MoH) is not taking any chances.

It has already deployed screening teams at all the State's major points of entry.

Screening teams have been deployed at Terminal One and Terminal Two of the Kota Kinabalu International Airport (KKIA) and also at Tawau Airport.

Screening for the EVD is carried out on the nationals or passengers who have visited three West African nations, namely Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

To achieve this, the Health Department is working very closely with the Immigration Department to identify travellers who have visited the three countries concerned as well as nationals from there.

International passengers who made transits in Hong Kong are also subjected to the screening exercise.

Dr Timothy Williams, Consultant for Infectious Diseases at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital (QEH), said there are five different strains of the Ebola virus, four of which could cause severe disease in humans and animals. Using statistics from the World Health Organisation (WHO) dated July 27 this year, he said there have been about 30 Ebola outbreaks since 1976.

This year alone, there were more than 600 cases of deaths caused by Ebola.

Ebola virus, he said, is very infectious where very small amounts of the virus could cause an infection.

"It is moderately contagious and can be spread from an infected human to another.

"It spreads through contact of body fluids from an infected person or objects that are contaminated by an infected person," he said.

Nevertheless, he assured that the virus is not airborne or spread by air.

But the virus is so infectious that even mourners in burial ceremonies that have direct contact with the body of the deceased can be infected.

"In fact, this is one of the main ways the disease is spread," he said.

Even health-care workers, despite the stringent measures they take in protecting themselves, have frequently been infected while treating patients with suspected or confirmed EVD.

Dr William said as of Aug 1 this year, 60 healthcare workers have died of EVD. He said the current outbreak is the only one to have occurred in urban areas and to cross national borders.

"So far, we have no cases of Ebola in Malaysia (but it is possible for someone in our country to get this infection) if the person is infected when visiting an affected country or if someone gets infected from an affected country and comes to Malaysia. In today's world that is interconnected, a disease is just a plane ride away," he said.

Dr Sen Nathan, Deputy Director of Sabah Wildlife Department, said the reservoirs of Ebola infection in West Africa are fruit bats.

While the species differ from the fruit bats found in Asia or Sabah in particular, they are mostly common bats.

In West Africa, he said, the EVD spread quite rapidly due to its thriving bush meat trade.

The virus, he said, has been cohabitating in the bats for decades but a surge in the human chain of activities have caused the virus to be spread among the human population.

This happens when the human population edges closer to the wildlife habitation that was previously not disturbed.

Ebola virus-carrying bats, he said, defecated and urinated on pigsties and caused the virus to be spread to them.

Subsequently, human consumes the animals and thus gets infected with the virus.

He believed that similarly the Nipah virus and Avian flu were also spread by animals.

Meanwhile, Dr William said the EVD is severe and can occur suddenly.

"They will be weak, develop fever, diarrhea, vomiting and stomach pain.

Other symptoms include severe aches, rash, red eyes, chest pains, sore throat, difficulty in breathing, difficulty swallowing and finally external and internal bleeding," he said.

Laboratory findings, he said, include low while blood cells and platelet counts and elevated liver enzymes.

The disease, he said, is very serious where 90 per cent of the people infected can die.

"The WHO said there have been more than 1,600 cases of Ebola since the disease emerged in West Africa this year.

"Last Monday, it said the death toll had reached 887 in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia, as well as Nigeria," he said.

Currently, Dr William said there is no known vaccine or medicine for the disease.

"Patients are given supportive care with the hope that their own immune system and body will overcome the infection," he said. But there is some hope with the introduction of an experimental drug known as Zmapp.

It was developed by the San Diego-based biotech firm Mapp Biopharmaceutical Inc.

It was previously not tried on human beings but had shown promises in small experiments with monkeys.

The conditions of two healthcare workers from the US who were infected, Dr Ken Brantly and Nancy Writebol, have significantly improved after receiving this medication.

Although it is still too early to confirm the ZMapp as a definitive treatment, the improvement on Brantly and Writebol gives some hope that it might one day be available in the near future.

Dr Brantly, has since returned to the US but is still being restricted to confinement.

The disease can be prevented from spreading through strict and effective infection control in the hospitals and health care settings when taking care of these patients, said Dr William.

From: SaSa General FEED


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