Update on Current Outbreak
As of a few hours ago, there have been 11 suspected cases of the Ebola virus disease, including three deaths, reported in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the disease had been discovered in the Likati health zone, Bas Uele Province in the northern part of the country.
History of Ebola
Ebola virus disease is a severe illness, with 90% of cases resulting in death.
It is caused by the Ebola virus which was first identified in 1976 when 2 concurrent outbreaks occurred, (in Yambuku, a village not far from the Ebola River in the Democratic Republic of Congo and the other in a remote area of Sudan).
The origin of the virus is not known, but current evidence suggests that fruit bats (Pteropodidae) may be a host.
How to prevent transmission
A person becomes infected with Ebola either through contact with infected animals or through contact with the body fluids of infected humans.
Most cases are caused by human to human transmission, occurring when blood or other body fluids (stool, urine, saliva, semen) of infected persons enter a healthy person’s body through broken skin or mucous membranes. Or contact with items such as soiled clothing, bed linen, gloves, protective equipment and medical waste such as used hypodermic syringes from an infected person.
People can protect themselves from infection with Ebola virus following specific infection prevention and control measures. These include
- Proper hand washing:
- Avoiding contact with the bodily fluids of individuals who are suspected of or confirmed to have Ebola
- Avoiding the handling of bodies of persons who are suspected of or confirmed to have died from Ebola.
- Vaccination: An experimental Ebola vaccine has proved highly protective against the deadly virus in a major trial in Guinea.
Ebola and air ambulance transportation
Treatment should be in a health centre staffed by doctors and nurses equipped to treat Ebola virus disease as well as with the necessary PPE required to handle such cases.
Not many health facilities are equipped with both the right personnel and equipment required. For example, in the DRC, the health zone is situated in the remote, isolated and hard-to-reach northern part of the country with limited transport and communication networks. This hinders the spread of information about the suspected outbreak. Currently, it takes about two to three days to reach the epicentre from Kinshasa.
Due to the time-sensitivity of treatment needed, air transport of patients is the fastest and safest bet, for the patient, the health care providers and the community.
Air ambulance transport for infectious disease is done in a portable isolation pod isolation contain infected materials and minimize contamination of the aircraft. All personnel providing care during air transport are trained in clinical management, infection control, and correct use of personal protective equipment (PPE). Everyone in the patient care area should use PPE as well as those who may have contact with patients or their body fluids; infection control guidelines are carefully followed, and procedures that could increase the risk of exposure to the patient’s body fluids are avoided.
These measures are to protect the patients, the healthcare providers as well as the community, to limit spread as much as possible.
Air ambulances, equipped for critical care are thus essential in the transport of patients for treatment in centres equipped to do so.
How prepared is Africa for another outbreak?
The World Health Organisation, WHO, said it has taken measures to effectively respond to the recent outbreak of Ebola in the Democratic Republic of Congo, DRC, and had mobilised technical experts for deployment to Congo, adding that it would also provide leadership expertise to attain coordinated and effective response.
The current response to outbreaks in Africa as evidenced by the handling of these outbreaks is reactive rather than proactive. There should be well equipped infectious disease control systems in place to forestall, identify as well as respond efficiently to these outbreaks.
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SOURCES: WHO, CDC