Ebola still poses low public health risk to Singapore

A Samaritan's Purse medical worker demonstrates personal protective equipment to educate team members on the Ebola virus in Liberia.
PHOTO: Ebola still poses low public health risk to Singapore

SINGAPORE - The Singapore public is advised not to be alarmed by reports of Ebola cases overseas, as the current assessment is that Ebola poses a low public health risk here.

The Ministry of Health (MOH) has not changed its assessment as "person-to-person transmission results from direct contact with bodily fluids of those infected, and there is low travel connectivity to West Africa where the current outbreak remains limited to."

Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) - formerly known as Ebola Haemorrhagic Fever - is a rare disease which causes severe, often fatal, illness in humans. There have been several Ebola outbreaks in Africa since EVD first appeared in 1976.

Currently there is an outbreak of EVD in West Africa, which was first reported in late March 2014. As of July 23, WHO reported a total of 1,201 cases - including 672 deaths in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone.

EVD is transmitted through direct contact with blood, body fluids and tissues of infected persons or animals, or by contact with contaminated objects. The incubation period of EVD varies from two to 21 days.

MOH said that patients are not contagious during the incubation period and become contagious once they begin to show symptoms. Symptoms include sudden onset of fever, weakness, muscle pain, joint pain, headache and sore throat. This can be followed by vomiting, diarrhoea, rash, stomach pain, red eyes, impaired kidney and liver function, and in some cases bleeding.

There is no licensed vaccine or specific treatment for EVD and severely ill patients require intensive supportive care.

MOH said it remains in close contact with the World Health Organisation (WHO) and its counterparts internationally, and will continue to monitor the situation.

"Our hospitals will be vigilant in testing for Ebola where clinically indicated, such as in patients with the symptoms and a compatible travel history. All suspected and confirmed cases will be isolated. In addition, the Ministry will conduct contact tracing and all close contacts will be quarantined, if a case is detected," MOH said on its website.

Prior to overseas travel, members of the public should refer to the MOH web page on Ebola for the latest Health Advisory. They should consider postponing travel to affected areas if it is non-essential. Those who need to travel are advised to adopt the necessary precautions, which includes the following:

- Practice frequent hand washing (e.g. after going to toilet, or when hands are soiled);

- Avoid direct contact with blood, secretions or other body fluids of infected living or dead persons or animals, as well as environments that have become contaminated with these infectious fluids such as soiled clothing, bed linen, or used needles;

- Avoid participating in burial ceremonies which require direct contact with the body of a deceased infected person.

- Avoid contact with wild animals, including bats, monkeys, apes, chimpanzee and gorillas, whether alive or dead, including their raw or undercooked meat;

- Returning travellers from affected areas or travellers who suspect that they have been exposed to Ebola virus should seek immediate medical attention and mention their recent travel to the attending physician if they develop any disease symptoms while travelling in or within three weeks of being in any of the areas.

yamadak@sph.com.sg