Via the European Commission's Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection page: Ebola epidemic: Interview with a health expert on the ground. Excerpt:
For the first time in West Africa, a case of Ebola was confirmed on 21 March, three weeks after the first alert of a possible viral haemorrhagic fever emerged from Guinea’s Forest region. Animals such as fruit bats, rodents and monkeys, abundant in the adjacent rain forest, are believed to have served as ‘reservoir’ for the virus.
However, once it passed from an infected animal to a human-being, the virus is now ready for human-to-human transmission. Though frightening and very lethal, relatively simple precautions can break the cycle of transmission and stop the epidemic from spreading.
Dr Jean-Louis Mosser, health expert from the European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection department (ECHO), is in the Guinean capital, Conakry, where he has been participating in crisis meetings and guiding ECHO’s response. He gives us a state of affairs.
“At the end of March, the number of suspected cases had reached 127 and the death toll stood at 83 in Guinea. Suspected cases were also reported in Liberia. It had taken people by surprise. Considering that this region had never suffered from Ebola before, when the first unusual deaths occurred in February, health services initially suspected Lassa fever, which is another haemorrhagic more common in West Africa. But when many health staff became ill and died, it made people wonder.
"Ebola tends to affect those who take care of the patients and dispose of the bodies and it has a much higher mortality rate than other haemorrhagic fevers. Until Ebola was confirmed these people were not wearing the required protective gear, which is why many got infected.”
Several countries have announced the closure of their borders with Guinea? There seems to be a sense of panic?
“Indeed, some people in the street were wearing masks. This is useless, because as a general rule, the virus is not transmitted through air. But the President addressed the nation on Sunday evening and this seems to have calmed spirits, somewhat.
"Ebola may be very lethal, but it can be stopped by isolating patients and protecting those who have direct contact with them. In the end, all suspected cases can be traced back to the same cluster of patients who were infected through someone in Guéckédou. Even if surveillance needs to be reinforced, the closure of borders is not appropriate and not recommended by international health regulations.”
Are we to expect an epidemic that spirals out of control across the region?
“Most people were contaminated in the first few weeks, when safety measures at the health facilities had not yet been taken. Since a week rigorous procedures are in place: all patients are being isolated, health staff have been given protective outfits, and people who have had a ‘suspected’ contact with one of the patients are being traced and held under surveillance for the potential incubation period. As this period can last up to 3 weeks, we can still expect some cases over the next few days.
"But once the necessary protection barriers are in place – and granted, this is not always an easy task – we can expect the epidemic to start leveling off, as it has in previous outbreaks.”