12 August 2014

WHO downplays possibility of global ebola epidemic

The World Health Organization (WHO) provided an overview of the spread of Ebola virus disease (EVD) in West Africa on 11 August and stressed that in countries with well-developed health systems, an epidemic is highly unlikely "given the epidemiology of the Ebola virus and experiences in past outbreaks".

The organisation noted that fear has led to a very high level of vigilance and clinical suspicion worldwide, stating that "such a high level of alert further increases the likelihood that any imported case will be quickly detected and properly managed, limiting onward transmission."

On the downside, the WHO observes that the same fear is compromising outbreak control when it causes airlines to refuse to transport personal protective equipment and courier services to refuse to transport properly and securely packaged patient samples to a WHO-approved laboratory.

Facts about Ebola

  • The Ebola virus is highly contagious, but is not airborne. 
  • Transmission requires close contact with the bodily fluids of an infected person, as can occur during health-care procedures, home care, or traditional burial practices. 
  • The incubation period ranges from two to 21 days, but patients become contagious only after the onset of symptoms. As symptoms worsen, the ability to transmit the virus increases. As a result, patients are usually most likely to infect others at a severe stage of the disease, when they are visibly, and physically, too ill to travel. 
  • There is no cure. 
  • Early detection and supportive care greatly improve prospects for survival. 

Read about the WHO announcement of the gravity of the EVD situation here, and how India and Singapore have prepared for the disease.