The government of Liberia, through the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare (MoH&SW) has confirmed that the deadly Ebola virus, which broke out in neighboring Guinea earlier last month and has claimed over 60 lives since then, has tallied 6 cases including 3 deaths on Liberian soil.
Of the six cases reported by the Ministry, five have already died (four female adults and a male child). The remainder, a female child, is undergoing treatment. All six confirmed cases traveled from Guinea for treatment in hospitals in the Foya and Zorzor districts of Lofa County. Three of the five who died expired on Liberian soil, while the other two returned to Guinea and expired there, according to the Liberian health authorities.
World Health Organization officials had previously recorded the Outbreaks of Ebola, indicating that it occurred primarily in remote villages in Central and West Africa, near tropical rainforests. But it has never been recorded in Guinea until last month. Recent years have seen outbreaks in Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo where deaths were recorded.
Speaking at a special press conference at the Ministry of Information, Cultural Affairs and Tourism (MICAT) on Monday March 24, 2014, the Chief Medical Officer (CMO) of Liberia, Dr. Bernice Dahn, said that the MOHSW and partners have already dispatched an assessment team to the affected areas since Friday March 21.
Dr. Dahn said the team is presently investigating the situation, tracing people who had contact with the six victims that were brought in the country and collecting blood samples and sensitizing the local health authorities on the disease.
The CMO disclosed that the assessment team took with them to Lofa, protective equipment such as face masks, gloves and goggles to protect health workers in the affected areas and facilities. “They also took chlorine to disinfect the affected hospitals and are strengthening surveillance along the border areas,” she added.
The MOHSW official said the National Task Force on Health Emergency (NTFHE) has been re-activated to coordinate the response, mobilize resources and expertise to prevent further spread of the disease, though many wonder why the ministry should await for an emergency situation before reactivating the NTFHE.
“The Ministry urges the general public to follow the essential measures to prevent the spread of the virus,” Dr. Dahn said.
“Persons suspected to be suffering from Ebola should be taken to the nearest health facility immediately for medical attention. Tracing and follow-up of the people who may have been exposed to Ebola through contact with patients are essential.
Experts indicate that Ebola has no treatment or vaccine, but can be prevented. “If you see or experience any of the symptoms, please immediately report or go to the nearest health center,” she pleaded.
When asked whether the Government of Liberia intended to close its border with Guinea in order to prevent the spread of the disease, Information Minister Lewis Brown, the host of the press conference, responded in the negative, saying that the risk was not severe enough to warrant closing the border.
“Communities affected by Ebola should make efforts to ensure that the population is well informed, both about the nature of the disease itself and about the necessary outbreak containment measures,” Dr. Dahn said.
Symptoms Liberians Should Watch Out for inConnection with Ebola include sudden onset of fever; intense weakness; muscle pain; headache and sore throat; vomiting; diarrhea; rash; impaired kidney and liver function, and in some cases, both internal and external bleeding.
Key preventive measures
The Ministry of Health has laid out several preventive measures to curtail the spread of the virus in Liberia:
• People should limit as much as possible, direct contact with body fluids of infected persons or their remains, and avoid physical contact such as handshaking, kissing and other means of direct contact.
• Members of the public are advised to“Wash your hands with soap and water as frequently as possible. Avoid direct contacts with animals such as fruit bats or monkey/apes and the consumption of their raw meat. Treat your water with chlorine before drinking.
• The MOHSW is calling on all stakeholders, traditional and religious leaders, community leaders, local authorities, and the general public to work closely with the MOHSW and partners to share these key messages within their communities to prevent the spread of the disease.
Health Minister, Dr. Walter Gwenigale, speaking at the conference said that government has put in place these initial measures to contain the spread of the virus in the country.
He noted that President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf expressed grave concern over the cases already reported and has promised to provide all the necessary support to contain the spread of the virus. He said if the initial measures put in place by the government do not work, additional measures will be introduced to combat the virus.
Ebola can cause severe viral hemorrhagic fever (VHF) outbreaks in humans with a case fatality rate of up to 90 percent. The virus first appeared in 1976 in two simultaneous outbreaks, in Nzara, Sudan and in Yambuku, D. R. Congo. The latter was in a village situated near the Ebola River, from which the disease took its name.
The Ebola virus comprises five distinct species, including Bundibugyo; Ivory Coast; Reston; Sudan; and Zaire. The one that broke out in Guinea and which is currently in Liberia is the Zaire species, according to the Health Ministry.