Ebola scare in town

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Ebola scare in town
The news reports of a Japanese tourist triggering off an Ebola scare brings to fore that there is more that one should be looking at, apart from whether or not the tests results confirm the infection. Confirmation of an Ebola infection would be problematic for the trail of exposure that the tourist would have subjected to in her interactions with people around her during her stay and travel would be massive `“ hotel staff; people she met while eating, traveling; the medical team that looked after her etc. Unlike the swine flu infection that was confirmed in the state in a later and hence, not highly infectious stage, the Ebola viral infection is currently on a deadly infection stage, compounded by the lack of an approved medication or vaccine. Before the current Ebola scare, there were reports earlier of `check posts`™ being opened at Jiribam, Mao Gate, Moreh and at the Imphal Tulihal Airport. It is now time to do a serious assessment of how these check posts are being equipped and how much aware the health care personnel are. A mere registry of ascertaining where people have traveled prior to entering the state is not enough, given the nature of the Ebola infection and its transmission. There would have to be a scaling up in terms of infrastructure by installing body temperature scanners at airports and international and state borders and investing in training health care personnel.

According to a latest update from the Center of Disease Control, Atlanta Ebola does not spread through the air simply by suspended particles remaining in the air after a cough or sneeze. But if infected sweat, mucus or saliva gets on doorknobs or countertops, the Ebola virus can be spread `for several hours` by someone touching the surface and then touching their eyes, nose, mouth or an open cut. It can be spread by handshaking as well, if the infected person had gotten saliva or mucus on his/her hands. The reassuring part is that Ebola is killed with hospital-grade disinfectants such as household bleach but since it can survive on doorknobs and other surfaces for several hours even after it gets dried, this means that the hotel where the Japanese tourist was put up is better sealed up.

What is happening now is that with more infections taking place all around us (due to more people being interconnected), there is first and foremost a tendency for a large scare that in turn creates pressure on health and state authorities to respond to the situation. The fall out of a public health emergency and the scare that follows it, the risks and trails undertaken by health workers along with the economic sidelight that pharma companies enjoys: all of these and more have been well portrayed in Steven Soderbergh`™s acclaimed film that came out in 2011, `Contagion`™. The film largely captured various nuances of the swine flu and earlier SARS outbreak and featured a fictional viral pandemic, the mad rush to ascertain its origin, the politics behind finding a cure and then deciding who gets the medicine first before it would get on the public domain. A viewing of this film would be largely educational as it narrates the various push and pull factors that come into play when a global pandemic strikes. Call it a continuation of the debate over whether life imitates fiction or fiction imitates life for the questions that this 2011 film threw up is still relevant today with reports of yet to be approved medicines for the Ebola outbreak being a good therapy but unavailable to all outside of the well to do nations.

Yes, the other side of development, progress and better connectivity is that geographical boundaries open up and there are more interpersonal interactions that fuel the growth of the spread of infections. To cite an example, when an epidemic of plague or cholera or such broke out in a particular town or village in an earlier era, the most that the infection could travel would be to towns or villages or cities in the immediate surroundings. But the same outbreak now in this time and age of increased person to person interactions and more people being congregated at markets, airports and train stations mean that the spread of infection is increased manifold. The State Health Department and other concerned authorities would do well to tie up with personnel of the Medicine Sans Frontier operating in the State as the agency is active in Ebola stricken countries where it has effectively cured many.

Leader Writer: Chitra Ahanthem

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