The death toll is mounting and Western nations are seemingly caught between providing assistance and staying out of affected areas. So what’s the real risk? Here’s some key facts and also the assessment of risk from Australia’s Donor and Product Safety Policy Unit (DAPS) who monitor organ and blood donation throughout Australia.
- Ebola virus disease (EVD), formerly known as Ebola haemorrhagic fever, is a severe, often fatal illness in humans.
- EVD outbreaks have a case fatality rate of up to 90%.
- EVD outbreaks occur primarily in remote villages in Central and West Africa, near tropical rainforests.
- The virus is transmitted to people from wild animals and spreads in the human population through human-to-human transmission.
- Fruit bats of the Pteropodidae family are considered to be the natural host of the Ebola virus.
- Severely ill patients require intensive supportive care. No licensed specific treatment or vaccine is available for use in people or animals.
Dr Veronica Hoad, Public Health Physician in the DAPS Policy Unit, explains: “For a person to become ill with Ebola in Australia, they would have to visit an area where an outbreak is occurring (Guinea, Liberia or Sierra Leone) and come into close contact with a sick or dead person or potentially a wild animal, as Ebola is only spread by body fluid contact”.
The incubation period (the time from when the person is infected with the virus to when they become unwell with symptoms) for Ebola is two to 21 days.
“Our Guidelines for the Selection of Blood Donors stipulates that donors who have travelled to countries at-risk of Ebola cannot donate for six weeks after leaving the country, so this more than covers this very low risk of an infected donor trying to donate,” said Veronica, who also credits Australia’s strong health system with being capable of dealing with the virus. “In the unlikely event a person did become unwell with Ebola after travel, our robust quarantine and infection control measures in the health system would stop further spread. Unlike the flu virus, people with Ebola are only infectious once they are unwell with symptoms”.
As part of its core business, the DPU performs ongoing assessment of all infectious diseases that have the potential to threaten the blood supply. Potential threats are assessed with continued surveillance (monitoring of data and information). This surveillance then guides the assessment and management of the threat and strategies to mitigate it.