Ebola virus : No serious international risk

Deadly disease not likely to spread beyond Zairean town, says WHO official

THE deadly Ebola virus in Zaire does not pose a serious international problem, according to a World Health Organisation (WHO) official.

The virus, one of the most lethal diseases known to man, was confined to Kikwit in Zaire and was unlikely to spread beyond that area, said Dr James Le Duc, a medical officer at WHO’s Communicable Diseases Division.

He told The Sunday Times in a telephone interview from WHO’s Geneva headquarters that the Zaire government had taken measures to quarantine Kikwit and restrict movement out of the area.

Kikwit is a town of 500,000 in the heart of Zaire’s western bread basket.

Dr Le Duc said: “The problem is quite serious in the outbreak area. But it does not represent a serious international risk or even a problem outside the area.”

He said WHO had notified countries on how to handle potential patients and advise travellers as air and sea ports around the world rushed to tighten screening for the virus.

He said extreme measures were unnecessary as the risk of the disease being introduced into another country was low. The virus is passed through contact with blood or bodily fluids and kills by causing uncontrollable bleeding.

The Ebola bug was not transmitted through casual contact or by air, he stressed.

WHO said in a statement on Friday that a total of 124 people in south-western Zaire had been infected by the virus. Of these, 89 have died.

Dr Le Duc said medical experts expected a considerable increase over the next week as more cases were detected by a medical team.

A team of 20 specialists from the WHO, the United States Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, France’s Pasteur Institute and South Africa’s National Institute for Virology anticipated seeing those who were now incubating the disease to become infected. Victims usually fall ill two to 21 days after exposure.

He said team members were working hard to prevent Ebola’s spread. They had improved conditions in the 326-bed Kikwit General Hospital to prevent transmission of the disease, and were now looking for those infected who had stayed at home.

While the task was made difficult because of Kikwit’s poor communications and transportation, he said it was possible to bring the situation under control in “a couple of months”.

He said: “We know what we are up against and we know how to solve the problem.

“We see a small spreading outbreak, but we feel it can be controlled. Our message is that the situation is well under control and this does not represent an international emergency.”

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