Can Jamaica Handle Ebola?

Administrator on October 7, 2014, 11:46 am 770 3
Can Jamaica Handle Ebola?

It is bad enough that Jamaica has been overtaken by the fast spreading Chikungunya Virus. The threat of Ebola, a rare and deadly disease for which there is no known cure, is a dreadful prospect for the average Jamaican. There is no doubt among medical experts that Jamaica is not prepared for the arrival of Ebola. The news that Jamaica's Northern neighbour, the United States has seen its first imported case of Ebola is enough to send shivers down the spine. As the saying goes, when the USA coughs, Jamaica catches cold.

Just how ready is Jamaica for Ebola?

Jamaican doctors in hospitals and health centres island-wide do not have the required safety gear necessary to deal with persons infected with Ebola. They also do not have the mandatory hazard management clothing and equipment, and the personal protection equipment (PPE) approved by the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Jamaica only has the standard personal protection gear of fabric medical gowns, goggles, and the N100 or N95 oxygen masks. These are of little use in combating the deadly Ebola virus. The mortality numbers coming from West Africa and other countries where Ebola is rampant include members of the health profession who have already succumbed to the disease. To take care of patients with Ebola and to protect themselves from infection, medical personnel must take absolute precautions at every stage of treatment. For the Jamaican government this means a significant and consistent outlay of capital.

The practice of discarding all materials, including bed linen and other intravenous items used in treating Ebola patients is one protocol that must be adopted. This may be at a significant cost to the Jamaican taxpayer. Another consideration is the provision of places to quarantine individuals who are suspected of carrying the Ebola virus. Protocols for mortuaries and funeral homes regarding the handling of bodies of persons who die from Ebola will also need to be carefully developed and followed.

The chilling fact about Ebola, which was originally known as Ebola haemorrhagic fever, is that it has a high mortality rate of 90%. In other words only one in ten persons affected by this deadly disease survives. To complicate matters even more, the initial signs of Ebola are the same as other known medical conditions. It is easy for doctors who are not prepared for Ebola to misdiagnose the headache, fever, muscle pain, sore throat, and weakness. Although doctors must look out for fevers higher than 38.6 Celsius, it is difficult for them to identify Ebola from certain symptoms alone. Tests are therefore necessary to eliminate other diseases such as malaria or cholera. As the disease progresses through the body, and the immune system is totally destroyed and organs seriously compromised, other symptoms will show themselves - diarrhoea, vomiting, internal and external bleeding.

Ebola is mostly spread through direct contact, via the mucous membranes and broken skin, with the secretions, blood, other bodily fluids, and organs of persons infected with the virus. Indirect contact with contaminated items can also spread the virus. Men who have recovered from Ebola can still, through semen, pass on the virus for up to 7 weeks after recovery. It is also possible for persons who are undergoing treatment for Ebola to transmit the disease to others although they are no longer experiencing symptoms. The incubation period for Ebola, that is the time between infection and symptoms, is between two to 21 days. Food, water and air cannot transmit Ebola. Someone with Ebola but not showing symptoms cannot spread the disease.

As other countries are now doing, Jamaica is ramping up its prevention strategies to block out Ebola. All are hoping that the Ministry of Health and partner entities are effective and that mistakes made with Chikungunya are not repeated.

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