Ebola: SA airports equipped with special scanners

Pretoria – Stringent measures have been put in place at South African airports to identify passengers displaying symptoms of the deadly Ebola virus and help prevent its spread, The National Department of Health has said.  

This follows concerns that the deadly Ebola virus is spreading beyond West Africa and is at risk of becoming the latest disease to be spread by international air travel.

SAnews.gov.za reports that both OR Tambo International and Lanseria Airport have thermal scanners to detect travellers with raised temperatures.

Once identified, the travellers will be assessed by medical officials at the necessary facilities available, with special attention being given to patients with a travel history to West Africa.  

The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) as well as the health ministry were alerted to the outbreak of the disease in West Africa as early as April and started addressing the challenges posed immediately.  

An alert was circulated shortly after the outbreak, prompting all Port Health officials to be aware of the EVD outbreak and have a high index of suspicion for travellers displaying symptoms.  

Health Minister Dr Aaron Motsoaledi has confirmed that necessary steps have been taken to detect and treat the disease should it arrive in the country, and that South African citizens had no need to panic. 

The deadliest outbreak of Ebola to date has been exacerbated by the death of a 40-year-old Liberian Finance Ministry employee Patrick Sawyer after he was able to board a flight from Liberia to Nigeria while clearly displaying various viral haemorrhagic fever symptoms.

Authorities say Sawyer, who boarded a flight in Liberia, had a stopover in Ghana, changed planes in Togo, and then arrived in Nigeria - died a few days later from Ebola.

International Civil Aviation Organization Secretary General Raymond Benjamin said, "Until now (the virus) had not impacted commercial aviation, butnow we're affected."

Earlier this week, Airports Company South Africa spokesperson, Unathi Batyashe-Fillis confirmed that The National Department of Health is monitoring all ports of entry into South Africa.

Here's what travellers need to know about the Ebola Virus as detailed by WHO 

- Ebola virus disease (EVD), formerly known as Ebola haemorrhagic fever, is a severe, often fatal illness in humans.  

- EVD outbreaks have a case fatality rate of up to 90%.  

- EVD outbreaks occur primarily in remote villages in Central and West Africa, near tropical rainforests.  

- The virus is transmitted to people from wild animals and spreads in the human population through human-to-human transmission. The disease is not spread through the air like the flu virus but through bodily fluids.  

- Fruit bats of the Pteropodidae family are considered to be the natural host of the Ebola virus.  

- Severely ill patients require intensive supportive care. No licensed specific treatment or vaccine is available for use in people or animals.  

- Containing the virus is extremely important as a single case can quickly turn into an epidemic.  

- Symptoms will develop about 21 days after infection and include fever, headache, muscle pain and weakness.  

- Other symptoms may involve a rash, nausea and vomiting, abdominal pain and diarrhea. Internal/external bleeding occurs in some cases, which can lead to shock and massive hemorrhage.  

- Travellers heading to this area should keep abreast of where the affected areas  are and avoid direct contact with people who are sick.  

- Administer strict hygiene conditions by regularly washing hands and avoiding contact with infected humans, if necessary were protective clothing and gloves. 

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