There is palpable fear in Nigeria that ebola disease, which had found a home in Central Africa, is now moving westwards to West Africa
| By Chinwe Okafor | Apr. 21, 2014 @ 01:00 GMT
THE much-dreaded Ebola virus has found its way into West Africa, a region that Nigeria is part of. The virus, which is fast spreading across the West African region, is posing serious threat to Nigeria as a result of immigrants from the Democratic Republic of Congo fleeing into Chad and Cameroon, Nigeria’s closest neighbours. Besides, there has been a reported outbreak of the disease in the south eastern forest region of Guinea in West Africa. This is causing widespread panic as the death toll rises and the disease continues to spread.
It has been recorded that over 100 people have died from the deadly Ebola disease in Guinea, while about 10 deaths have also been recorded in Liberia. Mali, Ghana, and other West African countries have also reported cases of the disease which is believed to have spread through physical contact or contact with fluid of infected persons. Onyebuchi Chukwu, minister of health, said that so far, no case of the disease has been reported in Nigeria but that in recent times, the ebola virus has been moving eastward towards Nigeria.
“We are already facing danger from Central African Republic and even with what is happening in the Congo; people are also migrating to Chad and Cameroon which are also in our borders. So with these recent happenings, Nigeria is in danger of the disease,” he said. Chukwu added that the federal government would do more to educate Nigerians on the ebola virus. He said that his ministry has recently added awareness of the disease to the leaflets that were being produced for Lassa and other hemorrhagic fevers.
According to him, newspaper and magazine adverts as well as radio and television jingles have been approved for the Nigerian Centre for Disease Control to produce in various languages so as to help enlighten the masses about the disease. He said that his ministry was also working with all groups, just like it was in the case for polio, adding that religious bodies, communities, traditional rulers and the media, which is most important in this venture, would help to play a particular role by educating Nigerians.
Chukwu, however, added that there was no vaccine for the disease yet and so people should not say that government has not produced vaccines for Ebola or Lassa fever. He said that if there were vaccines, government would certainly buy a stock and keep but that there was no specific treatment. He said that the Ebola fever could be spread through animals like bats because some Nigerians see it as bush meat. He added that bats eat fruits as well and one could get infected by eating a fruit that has been contaminated.
He advised Nigerians to take their personal hygiene seriously by washing hands at all times. He said: “The first thing I do after returning from work every day is to wash my hands before hugging my children or anybody. Wash my hands again, before and after eating. Fruits must be washed and those things we eat from must be washed too.” He further said that though Ebola virus had become a threat in West Africa, it was not the only threat; rather, it was an added threat because West Africa never had a single case of Ebola until this year.
Ali Usiholo, a doctor in University of Benin Teaching Hospital, UBTH, also confirmed that no incidence of the disease has been recorded in Nigeria. According to him, ebola symptoms include general body weakness, fever, muscle and joint pains, headache and sore throat. He said: “its victim can bleed under the skin and from injection sites into the guts with bloody diarrhea and vomiting and it takes between two to three weeks before its symptoms could be seen. Such conditions could be rapidly fatal with an average mortality rate of 60 percent.”
According to him, animals are the host of this virus but they do not suffer from the sickness; they are called reservoirs and humans get the virus once they come in contact with them. He said that the virus could spread in under equipped hospitals where needles are reused, no gloves and other hospital equipments are provided and that ebola is not an air borne disease but can be transmitted through physical contact with sick persons or infected animals.
Reiterating the need for residents to adopt urgent precautionary measures against the disease, Jide Idris, Lagos State Commissioner for Health, urged members of the public to observe and maintain high standards of personal and environmental hygiene to prevent the outbreak of the highly infectious disease. He noted that the main host of the virus is relatively unknown but that “there is enough scientific evidence to show that Ebola virus can be contracted by persons handling sick or dead infected wild animals, including chimpanzees, gorillas, monkeys, forest antelope, and fruit bats.
“Ebola virus can be spread through close contact with the blood, body fluids, organs and tissues of infected animals; direct contact with blood, organ or body secretions of an infected person. The transmission of the virus by other animals like monkey and chimpanzee cannot be ruled out.” Idris stated that those at the highest risk of contracting the disease include health care workers who treat patients without taking the right precautions to avoid infection; and families or friends of an infected person who could be infected in the course of feeding, holding and caring for the sick.
He noted that one could still contract the virus from an infected person as long as their blood and secretions contain the virus in some cases, up to seven weeks after they have recovered and that even those who come in contact with body fluids of a person killed by this virus are not exempted adding that though there is no specific treatment for the disease, persons with symptoms including bleeding from the mouth, nose, rectum and ear; or those suffering from fever, malaria and cholera should report to health centres closest to them, where they would be admitted for special care and treated in isolation.
Meanwhile, the World Health Organisation, WHO, has advised health workers to be at alert; wear personal protective equipment, observe universal basic precautions when attending to suspected or confirmed cases, and report to the local health authorities immediately. Other measures, which include washing of hands often with soap and water, avoiding close contact with people who are sick and ensuring that objects used by the sick are decontaminated and properly disposed of, are also meant to reduce the risk of infection
However, the global body has said that it expects the disease to continue in West Africa for the next few months and described the Ebola Virus Disease as a viral haemorrhagic fever and one of the most virulent viral diseases known to humankind. According to the WHO, Ebola is regarded in the medical world as the deadliest virus on earth, not only because it has no known cure, but also because it is one of the world’s lethal infections: it could kill within hours or few days of symptoms, whether an infected person gets treatment or not.