The Ebola disease cannot be passed through the air from person to person, and while there is much focus on the illness that is spreading rapidly in West Africa, there are other diseases that may slip by. These pointers formed part of a message to Barbadians last night from consultant on internal medicine and infectious diseases, and head of the Infection Control Department of the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Dr Corey Forde.
“The spread of Ebola is through direct contact with bodily fluids of a sick person, or a person who has died from Ebola. So that would include things such as blood, vomitus [vomit], urine, stool, sweat, saliva, etcetera,” Forde told his audience in a public lecture at the Lloyd Erskine Sandiford Centre. “Ebola, from all we know, is not airborne.”
The lecture, sponsored by the Barbados Drug Service, is part of a number of initiatives aimed at sensitizing Barbadians to this and other diseases.
Drawing on the Barbadian parlance “if you see your neighbour’s house on fire, put water on yours”, Minister of Health John Boyce explained at the forum that despite the fact of Ebola so far ravishing parts of West Africa only, there was need to put preventative measures in place here. Further, seeking to demystify Ebola and the way it spreads, Forde urged the hundreds of Barbadians in attendance to erase from their minds messages brought by commercial productions.
“It’s hard for you to get that across, because your brains have been trained. They have been wired by movies and by books to think otherwise,to be worried by [movies such as] Outbreak, and Quarantine and Quarantine 2, but it is not airborne. You can get it through contamination of needles and medical equipment.”
Forde advised to guard against the hysteria brought on by the onset of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) at the start of this century when people were alarmed when others sneezed. He cited the case definitions of Ebola, comprising fever of greater than 38.6 Centigrade, severe headaches, muscle pain, vomiting, diarrhoea, abdominal pain and unexplained bleeding, and pointed out that many of these symptoms were common in malaria, chikugunya and dengue.
“The problem is when there is something up in the world as an emerging, or re-emerging disease, or minds are trained on them, and that’s all we could think about. So if someone presented to us with features, even looking like this, we are going to say that [Ebola] is what it is,” he said, and warned: “The most prevalent disease coming out of West Africa with a patient presented like this could very well be malaria. And we need to keep our minds open . . . .
“Although we know there is Ebola out there, we need not to forget these other diseases. Because we are focusing so much on this disease, there are some other diseases which we
may let pass.”
Forde explained there were other factors that could narrow the symptoms down to possibly that of Ebola.
“What separates this is the affected person having travelled in the past 21 days to a region in the world affected by this disease, or in contact with someone affected.”