Ebola emergency response plan ready to be actioned across NSW to transfer any
returning aid worker possibly infected to hospital
HEALTH authorities have established an ebola emergency response plan across NSW that will transfer any returning aid worker showing signs of the highly contagious and fatal disease by specially equipped ambulances to Westmead Hospital.
NSW Chief Health Officer Dr Kerry Chant said while NSW hospitals were equipped to isolate any patients suspected of having the disease, which has killed close to 3900 western Africans, Westmead had purpose-made isolation rooms.
- Discovered in 1976, ebola is a deadly virus that begins with a fever, sore throat and muscle pain before it attacks internal organs and finishes iwth extensive internal bleeding.
- The current ebola outbreak began in the West African country of Guinea in December and has spread to Liberia, Sierra Leone, Nigeria and Senegal.
- Ebola starts wtih flu-like symptoms such as a runny nose, headache and muscle pain. It then develops into a haemorrhagic disease which includes bleeding of the eyes, internal organs and bleeding through the skin.
- Doctors keep patients comfortable until the virus runs its course. Scientists are atempting to create a vaccine for the virus.
- The standard mortality rate is 90 per cent, although the current strain is believed to be around 70 per cent.
There are 60 Australians registered on the government’s Smartraveller website for the crisis-hit West African countries of Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia.
But despite volunteer aid workers freely coming and going from the region, the government maintained its position that it was not safe to put either government-sanctioned health workers or ADF personnel into ebola-stricken areas because the 30-hour-plus flight time back to Australia was too long to evacuate someone.
Foreign Minister Julie Bishop told Parliament last week there were few planes equipped to ferry ebola victims safely.
The federal Health Department said there were strict guidelines in place to isolate a person if they became sick from the disease on a commercial flight.
Screening measures have been stepped up at international airports after Queensland nurse Sue Ellen Kovack checked into Cairns hospital with a slight fever after returning from Sierra Leone last weekend.
She is one of at least three aid workers — including a NSW nurse returning from Liberia — who have followed strict protocols putting themselves into voluntary isolation for 21 days.
Ms Kovack, who worked in an ebola hospital for a month, received a negative blood test for the killer disease but Queensland’s chief doctor said the 57-year-old will remain under observation until at least later today.
Dr Jeannette Young said: “This is a necessary precaution given the patient has been to West Africa and has had a fever within the incubation period of 21 days”.
Dr Young also raised concerns about the 15 hours it took to get a result on tests for the deadly disease as Ms Kovack was in Cairns.
She said she would raise with her interstate counterparts the prospect of having a designated ebola hospital in each state capital city to speed up the process.
“If you have people who do have a risk of developing the disease because they have been exposed to sick people, it would be easier to have them in a metropolitan centre where we have a hospital that we’ve designated to treat anyone who should get ebola,” she said.
“That delay from yesterday 1pm when the blood was taken until 4am this morning when I got the test result is fairly lengthy, it would be nice to be able to do that more quickly.”
In NSW, Westmead Hospital has already run two live exercises to test responses to an outbreak anywhere in the state, with specialist ambulances ready to isolate and ferry sick people to the western Sydney hospital.
Dr Chant said: “NSW Health, hospitals, healthcare providers including GPs, ambulance, pathology and other relevant parties … are trained to respond quickly to manage any suspected cases that may arise in many different locations.
“In the event of any suspected case of ebola … all hospitals are equipped to isolate the suspected patient.
“Westmead Hospital is the designated hospital for the treatment of Ebola virus and similar conditions in NSW. It has purpose-built isolation rooms for patients in order to control and contain the possible spread of the virus to other patients, healthcare staff and visitors.”
The only laboratory equipped to undertake viral diagnostic testing for ebola is also at the hospital.
Local doctors have been given protocols to isolate and assess patients with the help of experts at Westmead.
If the patient needs to be transferred all medical staff, including paramedics, have been trained in the use of protective equipment and relevant procedures.
Federal Health Minister Peter Dutton yesterday revealed 11 Australians had been tested for ebola and more than 650 had been screened at airports after arriving from African areas.
Despite the concerns, Australia will not follow the US and UK in screening people’s temperatures when they arrive back in Australia.
Officials say temperature screening does not provide a definitive answer because of the 21-day incubation period.
AID ANGELS GO WHERE OTHERS FEAR TO TREAD
RED Cross and other aid workers will continue to be sent to treat ebola victims in Africa and allowed to return home without the enforcement of formal quarantine.
Sending health workers to ebola-ravaged West Africa contradicts government policy for its own workers, with warnings the 30-hour flight from the region is too long to evacuate any workers diagnosed with the disease.
Despite this Red Cross volunteers — all health experts — are willing to commit themselves to the highly dangerous work that will see them put into home isolation for 21 days on their return home.
Medecins Sans Frontieres has had five Australian volunteers return from western Africa. MSF spokesman Yann Libessart said in Europe the organisation insisted volunteers remained in a major city for the 21-day isolation period for quick access to hospital.
Registered nurse Maria Dunn from Yamba, on NSW’s north coast, is preparing to head to Liberia to help tackle the ebola crisis next week.
“I am not blase about it, but I do say we are highly trained health professionals who follow very strict guidelines to protect our own health,” said Ms Dunn, 56. She is flying out to replace Libby Bowell, who is returning from Monrovia to go into 21 days of isolation at her home in Newcastle.
They are both volunteers on the Red Cross emergency roster and say they go because they have to. People need their help. It is dangerous work. Almost 200 health workers have died from the contagious disease so far. Ms Bowell helps work with the management of the dead bodies.
“The numbers continue to grow every day by 50 and 70 people becoming infected and up to 50 people a day dying,” Ms Bowell told the ABC from Monrovia yesterday.
“People are turned away on a daily basis.”