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We're ready if Ebola arrives, say health officials

Updated: 2014-08-15 08:00
(China Daily)

We're ready if Ebola arrives, say health officials

Quarantine officers with the entry-exit inspection and quarantine bureau at the Beijing Capital International Airport give body temperature tests to four passengers from Nigeria on Thursday. They all passed the test and were allowed through the border. Shen Bohan / Xinhua

China acts as killer virus takes heavy toll in West Africa, reports Shan Juan in Beijing.

China is on guard against the Ebola virus and well prepared to respond to any threat from it, health officials say as global concerns mount over the outbreak in West Africa.

Chinese healthcare professionals help out at the front line

On March 17, Cao Guang was working as usual at the China-Guinea Friendship Hospital at Conakry, capital of Guinea in West Africa.

The Chinese healthcare professional conducted a medical examination on a 44-year-old patient, who was later diagnosed as the first person infected by the latest Ebola virus outbreak.

Without realizing the severity of the situation, that first Ebola sufferer infected a total of nine medical workers, including Cao. Six of those infected later died.

Figures from the World Health Organization showed that 1,069 people among 1,975 suspected or confirmed cases of the Ebola virus in Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Nigeria have died from the disease. Cao was one of two Chinese medical workers who had come into contact with an Ebola patient. The two were not infected with the virus and Cao had to go through a 21-day quarantine in Guinea before returning to his work at the China-Guinea Friendship Hospital.

Cao, who is one of 19 medical staff sent to Guinea from Beijing Anzhen Hospital, has recorded his "special experience" in fighting the virus on his micro blog. His account has become a major hit among Chinese netizens and more than 20,000 fans are following his entries.

Guinea is the first West African country to suffer the latest Ebola outbreak, and latest figures showed that 310 of 410 Ebola cases detected in Guinea had died. Kong Qingyu, head of the Chinese medical assistance team in Guinea, said they have received 12 infected patients in the past 20 days. The death rate is high but the Chinese team is working hard on an emergency plan.

China have been sending assistance teams to Guinea since June 1968 and Kong's team is the 23rd one. Besides Guinea, there are 38 Chinese medical workers fighting at the forefront of the war against the Ebola virus in West Africa. The teams currently have no plans to evacuate the affected areas. "It is a doctor's duty to heal the wounded and comfort the dying," Kong said.

Dong Xiaoping, deputy director of the emergency response division at the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said the nation is far from the areas affected and there are no direct flights to these countries.

"The possibility of Ebola entering China remains remote, although it does exist," Dong said. "But a mass outbreak in China can be ruled out, given the capacity for responding to it here."

The latest Ebola outbreak, the largest of its kind and the first in West Africa, has claimed more than 1,000 lives in four countries.

Last week, the World Health Organization declared the epidemic a "public health emergency of international concern".

Dong said, "If there are isolated cases, we will be capable of 'contact tracing' and further stopping the spread of the virus."

Healthcare professionals and hospitals also stand ready to treat patients and carry out infection control measures if the need arises, he said.

Ebola virus disease is one of the world's most virulent diseases. The infection is transmitted by direct contact with the blood, body fluids and tissues of infected animals or people.

The latest outbreak, which started in February in Guinea in West Africa, has since spread to neighboring Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Nigeria, whose health systems are too weak to handle the scourge.

The WHO warned that the possible consequences of any global spread of Ebola are serious in view of its virulence and has called for a coordinated international response to stop and reverse any such potentiality.

Response plan in place

China's top health authority, the National Health and Family Planning Commission, issued an Ebola hemorrhagic fever response plan on July 31.

Under the plan, local medical institutions must use an online system to report any confirmed or suspected Ebola cases directly to the commission within two hours. The requirement makes it one of the most stringent of its kind involving infectious diseases.

Other key information provided cover clinical symptoms, virus screening and even the disposal of the bodies of infected victims.

"The Ebola response plan has been distributed among all stakeholders, including the health, transportation and customs departments," said Song Shuli, the commission's spokeswoman.

Song said the response includes checks and preparations in bio-safety and security that involved mass events like the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

The country already has in place action plans to deal with Ebola, even though there have been no outbreaks of it nor sample virus strains for research, she said.

He Xiong, deputy director of the Beijing CDC, agreed.

"A sound health emergency preparedness plan enabled by multidepartment collaboration is in place in China as a legacy of the country's response to major threats like SARS in 2003," He said.

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