Suspect cases of Ebola likely to arise ‘for some time’ - HSE

Senior health director says virus ‘almost impossible’ to catch through normal contact

Residents of the West Point slum wait for food aid during the second day of the government’s Ebola quarantine on their neighbourhood in Monrovia, Liberia, on Thursday. Photograph: John Moore/Getty Images)

Residents of the West Point slum wait for food aid during the second day of the government’s Ebola quarantine on their neighbourhood in Monrovia, Liberia, on Thursday. Photograph: John Moore/Getty Images)

Sat, Aug 23, 2014, 15:02

There will be “suspect” cases of Ebola infection in Ireland for some time, one of the State’s most senior health officials has said.

Dr Kevin Kelleher, assistant national director of health protection with the Health Service Executive (HSE), said the case in Donegal this week in which tests were carried out for Ebola after the death of a man, was one of “a handful” of cases here where testing had taken place.

Tests were carried out following the death of Dessie Quinn, who had recently returned from working in Sierra Leone. They confirmed that Mr Quinn did not have the virus.

Speaking on RTE radio, Dr Kelleher said there were “a number of other instances” where people had returned from west Africa where there had been “investigations” but that they had not gotten to the point of needing a blood test.

He said there were always people returning from this area feeling unwell and that health authorities would “go through the process with them” based on guidance from the World Health Organization.

Dr Kelleher said that countries such as Cameroon or Namibia were “not an issue”.

But that if someone returned from Nigeria, Liberia, Sierra Leone or Guinea, then more discussion was needed with the individual about the context of their visit and contact with others.

“If they just stayed in hotels and had no contact with people or people who were sick, then it’s almost impossible to catch the disease,” he said.

Dr Kelleher said the virus could only be caught by direct contact with the individual and/or their bodily fluids.

It was not like being in a room with someone suffering from flu or measles.

Dr Kelleher said the disease was primarily, normally found in the bush, in the tropics or in the forest.

“When it’s there, there are so little medical supports it’s very difficult to treat.”

But if someone was able to get to a place where they could get the treatments available in the developed world, such as Ireland, there was a “very high chance” of success in treating it.

Ireland did not have a stock of the drug ZMapp, which appeared to have cured two American aid workers who contracted Ebola, Dr Kelleher said.

“No, it’s a totally experimental drug. If we got to point where we had to have it, would seek internationally to obtain such drugs,” he said.

Asked whether it was inevitable that Ebola cases would be seen in Europe, given the WHO warning that it would take “many months” to bring the outbreak under control, Dr Kelleher said: “I think we will certainly see suspect cases will carry on happening for quite some time.

“The likelihood of a case coming outside of that area that is not known about is very unlikely,” he said.

In the cases involving the aid workers, it had been known they had the disease and they had been “transferred out explicitly” from Africa.

“There has not been case outside Africa of Ebola.”

While it took between two and 21 days after contact with someone for the infection to manifest itself, it was really only when it became “really bad” in the body that it was possible to infect others.

Dr Kelleher agreed that part of the problem in treating the disease in west Africa was “fear”.

“It’s a mixture of the fear of the disease and fear of the state, the system as well and that causes a lot of the difficulties,” he said.

“We’ve got a number of people from our area who are out there at the moment. They’re saying there’s a phenomenal amount of work going on but the biggest issue they have is trying to get across against all the mythology that has built up about the disease is very difficult.”