Is South Africa Safe From Ebola?
: 2019-08-06 10:00:17

The Ebola virus disease (EVD) is showing havoc in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), but experts agree that the risk of introducing the disease in South Africa remains low. This is according to the latest update by the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD), which was issued on 01 August 2019. The NCID said this was based on the outcome of an assessment conducted using a World Health Organisation (WHO) risk assessment tool.

Currently, no travel or trade restrictions between South Africa and the DRC are recommended. Despite the low risk, steps are being taken to improve vigilance and preparedness to respond to any possible EVD cases that may be encountered in South Africa. Twelve people were ordered to undergo testing for a possible Ebola infection in Goma in the DRC on Saturday 03 August 2019, only days after three patients in the densely populated city tested positive for the disease, the country's presidency said, according to AFP. Six others suspected of carrying the virus were discharged after testing negative on Friday, the presidency added.

According to the NICD, a third case was identified in Goma on 31 July 2019. She is the daughter of the second case who came from a mine some distance from Goma. Contacts are being identified and will be vaccinated. There have been no secondary cases related to the first imported cases in Goma. There have also been no secondary cases related to the imported cases in Uganda, and more than 21 days have passed.

On Friday, the WHO said there were currently no confirmed cases of Ebola outside of the DRC. It, however, advised against any restriction of travel to, and trade with, the DRC. Currently, no country has implemented travel measures that significantly interfere with international traffic to and from the DRC. Travellers should seek medical advice before travel and should practice good hygiene.

The WHO said the EVD, formerly known as Ebola haemorrhagic fever, is a severe, often fatal illness affecting humans and other primates. The virus is transmitted to people from wild animals, such as fruit bats, porcupines and non-human primates, and then spreads in the human population through direct contact with the blood, secretions, organs or other bodily fluids of infected people, and with surfaces and materials, such as bedding or clothing, contaminated with these fluids.

The national Department of Health said the risk of Ebola spreading to South Africa remained low. Currently, there are no Ebola cases in South Africa nor are there any suspected cases under investigation," department spokesperson Popo Maja said.

"To become infected, an individual has to have direct contact with an infected person. People who are at risk of becoming infected need to have been in the North Kivu area or have been in contact with infected patients there. There are no trade links nor tourist destinations in the North Kivu area. In addition, there are no commercial flights between South Africa and the epicentre of the outbreak including Goma, further limiting the risk of an imported case."

Maja said despite the low risk to South Africa, the health systems were on high alert to rapidly detect and manage imported cases should these occur. Since the commencement of the outbreak, the health department has worked with stakeholders to develop and implement a preparedness plan. The plan includes co-ordination meetings among stakeholders, risk communication, screening of returning travellers and other high-risk persons including military personnel, infection prevention and control training and provision of equipment, strengthening of laboratory diagnostic capacity and simulation exercises among stakeholders.

"South Africa has a great deal of experience in diagnosing and managing viral haemorrhagic fevers and has the only BSL-4 high security laboratory on the continent," Maja said.

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