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'Do not panic'

PAHO urges authorities to increase Ebola surveillance, education

Monday, August 04, 2014    

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THE Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO) is urging Jamaican health officials not to create panic in the public domain regarding the deadly Ebola virus.

PAHO's Disease Prevention and Control Advisor Dr Kam Mung says increased surveillance is effective and that the option must be pursued.

"It is important to have heightened surveillance to know what is happening, but it is very important to avoid panic. The protection, mainly, is the basic level of infection control like hygiene, use of personal protective equipment to avoid direct contact with blood and body fluids that is very important," he said in a radio interview broadcast on Friday.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), the Ebola virus (formerly known as Ebola haemorrhagic fever) is a severe, often fatal illness, with a case fatality rate of up to 90 per cent.

It is transmitted through direct contact with blood (for example, through broken skin) and other bodily fluids or secretions such as stool, saliva, urine and semen. Infection can also occur if broken skin comes in contact with environments that have become contaminated with an Ebola patient's infectious fluids such as soiled clothing, bed linen or used needles.

The symptoms include a sudden onset of fever, intense weakness, muscle pain, headache and sore throat. These may be followed by vomiting, diarrhoea, rash, impaired kidney and liver function and in some cases, both internal and external bleeding.

There is no known treatment for the disease. More than 670 people have died of Ebola in Africa, the most on record since the disease was detected in the 1970s.

Global medical charity Doctors Without Borders has warned that the Ebola crisis is unprecedented and out of control.

Health Minister Dr Fenton Ferguson says the situation is being closely monitored and that steps are being taken to prevent a possible spread in the island.

Director of Emergency, Disaster Management and Special Services in the ministry Dr Marion Bullock DuCasse explained that while Jamaica does not at this time fall into the category of at-risk countries, "we continue to ensure that our systems are strengthened so that we can have an effective response if the need arises. Our surveillance system has already been heightened, we will be sensitising staff and undertaking training specific to the Ebola virus and continue with our monitoring of the situation".

The Opposition Jamaica Labour Party (JLP), meanwhile, is urging that a system of quarantine be engaged for persons travelling to Jamaica from the affected countries.

"We have to be conscious of people who may directly or indirectly come from West Africa or travel through West Africa to come to Jamaica from West Africa. So a process has to be set up at our ports to identify any such person and put them in quarantine," said the JLPs spokesman on health Dr Kenneth Baugh.

"The public health department knows the course of action to take. The population also has to be educated -- educated to avoid panic, but at the same time ensure that everyone understands the risks that are involved and what action to take," said Baugh, a former health minister.

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