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T&T goes on Ebola alert

As deaths from deadly virus in Africa rise
Saturday, April 19, 2014

Health officials have heightened surveillance at all local ports of entry as the death toll from the Ebola virus disease (EVD) continues to climb in Africa. Health Ministry Chief Medical Officer (CMO) Dr Clive Tilluckdharry, in an interview with the T&T Guardian on Tuesday, confirmed that port health officers had been put on alert to look out for suspected cases of the deadly strain of the virus now ravaging West Africa. “There is stringent monitoring,” he said.



The World Health Organisation (WHO), on its Web site, reported that health ministries in Guinea, Liberia and other affected countries had reported about 200 confirmed or suspected cases of the virus. “The vast majority of victims are in Guinea, where officials have reported 168 cases, including 108 deaths. Liberia reports 13 deaths from the disease,” the WHO stated. Gambian authorities have already ordered airlines not to pick up passengers from affected countries, as fears over the infectious disease mounts. 


Tilluckdharry said monitoring of all ports was critical to prevent the transmission of the virus here. “Certainly, at the ports of entry, surveillance will be heightened and within the country. We have a surveillance system for viral diseases, including dengue, malaria and chikungunya,” he said. The CMO assured that there had been no cases of the deadly disease in T&T. “We have no cases at our ports. No reported cases or suspected cases,” he said.


Tilluckdharry said that normally, before any vessel, either plane or ship, was granted entry into T&T, information about its passengers and crew was first gathered. “If there are any ill passengers on board the port health officers will board and do the necessary investigations,” he said. 



He said Ebola was a hemorrhagic disease that caused massive bleeding which led to shock and death. Tilluckdharry said this particular strain of Ebola was “highly progressive” and according to the WHO death occurred in 90 per cent of patients. Passenger screening T&T Civil Aviation Authority Director General Ramesh Lutchmedial also told the T&T Guardian that heightened checks were being conducted at the Piarco International Airport to ensure the infectious disease did not make its way to T&T.


He said the authority was very involved in the task force, with the Health Ministry, to deal with the prevention of communicable diseases which was co-ordinated at the level of International Civil Aviation Organisation. “Any disease that could be transmitted one person to another person while travelling, especially airborne diseases, we are very active in monitoring it and we are working with the Ministry of Health,” he said.


He said a sign was posted in the immigration area asking passengers who may have visited Africa to present themselves to officials for interviews. Lutchmedial said the passengers would be interviewed and then a preliminary screening would be conducted. “If they (port health officers) see the need for secondary screening they would do it,” Lutchmedial said.



What is Ebola?

The World Health Organisation (WHO) says the Ebola virus disease (EVD), formerly known as Ebola haemorrhagic fever, is a severe, often fatal illness in humans and outbreaks have a case fatality rate of up to 90 per cent. The current outbreak, the WHO said, began in a forested southeastern region of Guinea in February. Since then, health officials have reported confirmed or suspected cases in Liberia, Mali and Sierra Leone.


The WHO said the virus is transmitted to people from wild animals and spreads in the human population through human-to-human transmission with outbreaks primarily occurring in remote villages in Central and West Africa, near tropical rainforests. Fruit bats of the Pteropodidae family are considered to be the natural host of the Ebola virus. Severely ill patients require intensive supportive care. No licensed specific treatment or vaccine is available for use in people or animals.


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