The Ebola epidemic in West Africa could be worse than HIV, and precautions need to be taken in New Zealand before it spreads any further, Oamaru GP Stephen Dawson says.
The World Health Organisation has announced the death toll from the epidemic has now reached 887 in Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria and Sierra Leone.
Mr Dawson said the epidemic was worse than previous ones, because it had spread to major centres rather than being restricted to isolated communities.
“Ebola is a nasty virus, we all know that.”
Mr Dawson, who has been a doctor since 1981, said he had watched HIV evolve in his career but the Ebola epidemic could be more deadly, as it is transmitted more quickly and easily.
“It’s the first time the virus has had the opportunity to take on a bigger population and when it gets thousands of opportunities to take host, it gets more opportunities to mutate, which is an unpleasant thought.”
The epidemic could last for months in Africa, if not years, as they did not have the infrastructure to properly deal with it, he said.
“That’s how scary it is.”
A recent concert in Conakry, Guinea, where at least 34 people were trampled to death, was an example of how the authorities “haven’t got a handle” on the situation, Mr Dawson said.
A concert with thousands of people dancing and cheering in one of the affected countries would be the perfect place for the virus to spread, he said.
The number of cases has not started to rise exponentially yet, but they needed to be monitored.
Western countries like New Zealand,needed to take precautions but hopefully had the infrastructure and mechanics to deal with the situation, he said.
“We should be able to shut it down pretty quickly.
“We should be vigilant and stringently report any sick travellers from that part of the world.”
Mr Dawson said there needed to be some sort of restriction on air travel coming in and out of the affected countries and sick people needed to be isolated.
“I wouldn’t travel to those countries.”
Oamaru Hospital chief executive Robert Gonzales said the hospital would take precautions if directed.
While they were aware of what was happening around the world, they had not been advised of a need to take local precautions yet, he said.
“Should it become a national concern, then we will follow the directions given to us.”
Ebola, a form of haemorrhagic fever for which there is no vaccine, causes severe muscular pain, fever, headaches and, in the worst cases, unstoppable bleeding.
It has killed around two-thirds of those it has infected since its emergence in 1976, with two outbreaks registering fatality rates approaching 90 per cent.
The death rate in the current outbreak is 55 per cent.
– Additional reporting AFP
By RUBY HARFIELD