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EDITORIAL: Facts key to Ebola fight


EDITORIAL: Facts key to Ebola fight

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Any disease that has a fatality rate of 90 per cent is certain to generate anxiety and fear. And when this happens, people often panic and become irrational.

The general reaction to the Ebola epidemic internationally and, to some extent, locally, is therefore understandable.

However, in the face of this overwhelming fear people need to be constantly reminded of the scientific facts of Ebola and not be allowed to be led astray by hysteria and misinformation.

The facts about Ebola are that people infected with the virus are not contagious until they are showing symptoms – which are, first, a fever, followed by vomiting and diarrhoea, which usually occur between two and 21 days of contracting the virus.

Risk of contracting Ebola is greatest if you come in direct contact with blood, secretions, organs or other bodily fluids of infected people as these contain high concentrations of the virus that can result in infection if your eyes, mouth, nose, or a cut on your skin are exposed to the virus, even for a relatively short period.

Most significant too, is that Ebola is not an airborne virus; you would have to be close to someone who is infected and at least has a fever, to contract it.

On top of that, you would have to come into direct contact with bodily fluids from the infected individual.

In terms of contracting Ebola from someone on a plane or a bus, there is a low probability for that because patients are at their most infectious in the later stages of the illness when they have bad diarrhoea and nonstop vomiting. Individuals sick enough to be vomiting are unlikely to be in any condition to take a bus or plane ride.

With these facts in mind, it should be understandable why the Ministry of Health maintains that the probability of contracting Ebola here is so low.

Their feverish education and training of medical workers, the purchase of infrared thermometers, personal protective equipment and outfitting of an isolation centre can be viewed as part of that exercise to prepare Barbados to be able to nip the disease in the bud, in the event a case comes here.

In this vein, the planned national simulation exercise for key medical personnel to ascertain the level of readiness here is also commendable. Practice makes perfect, and such an exercise would help workers identify their strengths and weaknesses and work to improve their level of preparedness.

The ministry also needs to keep the public regularly updated on what frontline personnel are doing to protect the country. This is the only way the average citizen would feel something tangible is being done to protect them and their loved ones from this deadly virus.

In this fight against Ebola, health officials need to understand that constant communication with the public is as essential as their in-house preparations. For an informed, educated public are unlikely to panic or be hysterical in the event a case does reach our shores.