Keeping Ebola at bay

Concerns over Ebola have escalated after the United States and Spain reported their first cases of the disease diagnosed within their borders. A traveller from Liberia, a West African nation where the disease is rampant, was found to be harbouring the disease-causing virus several days after arriving in Dallas. In the case of Spain, a hospital nurse involved in the care of a sick priest repatriated from Sierra Leone, another West African nation where the outbreak is continuing, has caught the virus. Given Ebola’s sinister reputation, there have been strident demands in the U.S., including from Congress, for measures to reduce the risk of infection being brought into the country. In response, American officials have said that measures to screen arriving airline passengers would be put in place. (India has already introduced such arrival screening.) As it is, countries where Ebola transmission is ongoing are expected to carry out exit screening of all persons departing from their airports, seaports and major land crossings. Using temperature monitoring systems and a questionnaire, the three West African nations of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, which are the worst-affected, have checked about 36,000 airline passengers in the past two months. Only 74 of them had fever and three displayed other worrisome symptoms, but none of those individuals turned out to have Ebola, say U.S. health officials. It remains to be seen if screening passengers on arrival will actually reduce of risk of the virus getting in. Those infected can take between two and 21 days to show symptoms of the disease, and, as happened with the Liberian who was diagnosed in Dallas, that may not occur before they set out on their journey.

The Obama administration has refused to entertain ideas of blocking the entry of those coming from the affected countries. If the U.S. were to adopt such a seemingly extreme step, other nations would doubtless follow suit. As it is, the outbreak has been a colossal calamity for three of the world’s poorest nations, requiring a massive international response to the resulting humanitarian crisis. Isolating those countries for any extended period will only add to their hardship and hamper the ongoing international efforts to provide assistance. India and other countries untouched by Ebola must, however, be ready with response plans should an infected person turn up on their shores. The ability to quickly diagnose and isolate such cases, ensure rigorous infection control in healthcare settings, and track down and monitor an infected individual’s contacts are essential. Nigeria and Senegal, West African countries that saw imported cases, were able to stop the virus from spiralling out of control. Good planning holds the key to getting the better of Ebola.

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Printable version | Nov 27, 2021 8:30:40 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/keeping-ebola-at-bay/article6482126.ece

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