Thailand unlikely to see Ebola victims, forum told

The public should not panic over the Ebola outbreak in West Africa due to unsubstantiated social media reports, as there is little chance the deadly virus will make its way to Thailand - and even if it did, health organisations are well prepared to handle it, a seminar in Bangkok was told yesterday.

The virus is not airborne and can only be transmitted by direct contact, senior doctors said at "How to Handle the Ebola Virus When It Reaches Thailand".

"The Ebola virus's transmission is similar to that of HIV/Aids, which transmits only when there is a contact between organs and blood," said Dr Yong Poovorawan of Chulalongkorn University's Faculty of Medicine.

He emphasised that it would be quite difficult for the disease to spread in Thailand.

He said there had been 20 Ebola outbreaks over the past four decades, but most were in West Africa.

Influenza spread quicker than Ebola due to the former being an airborne virus.

People could also contract Ebola through direct contact with a sufferer's blood or urine, he said.

With an Ebola mortality rate of 60 to 90 per cent, Yong assured the public that all hospitals would be able to control an outbreak.

"All Thai hospitals have enough facilities and technology to contain the outbreak. Many major hospitals in Thailand have sophisticated facilities to handle the virus," he said.

While rural hospitals did not have this technology, staff had received training on controlling the virus using the model for containing influenza.

The Ebola virus had the lowest basic reproduction number - about 1.34 to 1.83, meaning it could be spread to only one or two people at a time. For malaria, the figure is five to 100.

Speaking at the same session, Dr Roongroje Thanawongnuwech, dean of the Faculty of Veterinary Science at Chulalongkorn University, said 699 bats and 50 monkeys were tested for Ebola and all the results came back negative.

Dr Narin Hiransuthikul, of Chulalongkorn University's Faculty of Medicine, said there was no specified vaccine for the virus and the only way a doctor could help an Ebola patient was to give them medication to relieve the symptoms so the immune system could better fight the disease.

The maximum chance of survival is 40 per cent, he said, adding that small hygiene precautions such as washing hands are ways to prevent someone contracting the virus.