In the face of mounting criticisms from the public about lack of information on recent health epidemics in the country, the Ministry of Health has gotten more proactive in disseminating information to the public especially on the deadly Ebola disease now ravaging three states in Western Africa.
The Ministry of Health and Government hosted a symposium last week Friday to relay extensive information on the deadly Ebola virus to key stakeholders and members of the media on symptoms, signs and prevention as Grenada seeks to tackle the disease before it enters the country.
The event, held at the Conference room of the Ministry of Works at the Botanical Gardens also attracted representatives from the Grenada Hotel and Tourism Association (GHTA), Grenada Solid Waste Management Authority (GSWMA), National Insurance Scheme (NIS), Immigration and Health Officials.
Senior Medical Officer in the Ministry of Health, Dr Francis Martin told the gathering that Ebola was first discovered in 1976 near the Ebola River in the Democratic Republic of Congo and since then there have been 33 outbreaks.
As it stands now, Dr. Martin said the Virus is having a detrimental effect on the livelihoods of many persons.
“This virus can kill up to 90% of the persons infected but the current report from the CDC (Center for Disease Control), they predict 70% mortality rate. It means 70% of the people who have the virus will die but although we think a prediction is 70%, in reality it can still kill up to 90% of the persons infected,” he added.
According to Dr. Martin, the Ebola, like the HIV virus, can be classified as an Envelope virus, which can be killed easily, but the treatment cannot be used in humans.
“It is an envelope virus and I love the fact that Ebola is an envelope virus because the envelope virus is a very easy virus to kill. HIV is an envelope virus …we could kill the HIV virus very easily. It’s just that what is used to kill it, you can’t give them to humans”, he told participants.
“Anytime you have a disinfectant that can kill non-envelope viruses you can be sure that that disinfectant will kill an envelope virus because the envelope viruses are easier to kill,” he said.
Dr. Martin pointed out that the Ebola Virus is a natural occurring one in the environment but if it enters a particular country there have to be a reservoir host to keep it alive.
“…The virus doesn’t have that life form but that life form becomes the conduit by which the virus gets to another person. In Grenada the reservoir host for Rabies is Mongoose but the Mongoose doesn’t die from Rabies, they carry it, they are the host for it.
“…Ebola also has a host. The Ebola virus is animal borne – that means the life form that holds this virus is an animal. Research has shown that the Fruit Bats are the more likely reservoir. Do we have fruit bats in Grenada? The answer is yes. It means that if this virus enters into Grenada, it is possible that we may have a reservoir host here that can keep this virus alive.
The Medical Doctor believes that due to the manner in which the disease can move from person to person, it is now more than likely that people would have to make adjustments in how they deal with one another.
He said: “The principal transition of the Ebola virus is through direct contact with body fluids, broken skin, indirect contact with contaminated persons and the Ebola virus can stay alive on objects from a couple of days up to a couple of weeks.
“…I figure that Ebola is gonna change our lives and it’s gonna change (the) way we live. People may not be able to hug one another as much as they used to do before because you are not sure, especially if they travel out of the country and they come back in – you have to quarantine yourself for a while”, he added.
According to Dr. Martin, the Ebola virus is not air borne but it is transferred through droplets.
“If someone sneezes and we are within 6 feet of the person in the sneeze, the droplets, saliva droplets, you can contract Ebola from that person sneezing,” he said.
He explained to participants the signs and symptoms to look for in an infected person.
“The early signs of Ebola will feel like a flu or a viral illness but as the disease gets worst you start developing a rash, vomit, coughing up blood, bleeding from the eyes, ears, nose.
“Basically you bleed every where in your body and this is followed by impaired Kidney function, liver function and that leads to both internal and external bleeding and death because once the liver is affected, the liver is not able to monitor that clotting factor.
“The liver is what is responsible for making the proteins that cause the blood to clot, so if your liver is not functioning, your blood will not clot and anything that leads to bleeding will cause you to bleed out and die.
Noting that there is no treatment for the virus, Dr. Martin stressed that there is a treatment serum that is presently used to destroy infected cells, but he said it does not always work on patients.
“…Very rarely do viruses kill people because viruses survive in live hosts so it is useless for a virus to kill someone. The Ebola virus itself wouldn’t kill you but the bleeding that it causes will kill you,” he said.
He added that the process of “contact tracing” is one of the preventative measures taken to try and keep the virus away from persons.
“Any person who has had any contact with Ebola virus disease during the last 21 days before the onset of symptoms (if you have slept in a household, if someone has had direct physical contact, dead or alive, you would be considered a risk and so you will be contact traced and all your contacts have to be traced as well,” he remarked.
Dr. Martin announced that the Ministry of Health has established isolation rooms at the international airport at Point Salines and at the hospital, just in case the virus enters the country.
He also outlined some of the other measures being taken by Grenada in order to ward off the virus.
Upon entering the port, a questionnaire will be given to visitors to fill out asking them specific information concerning the virus and if they are suspected to have been in contact with an Ebola patient. Persons who answer in the positive will be placed at the isolation room at the airport.
Dr. Martin disclosed that the airlines flying into the Maurice Bishop International Airport (MBIA) have already been contacted to ensure that they adhere to measures aimed at preventing suspected persons from entering the plane to come to Grenada.
In addition, guidelines on the correction methods to handle an Ebola corpse have been given out to Funeral Homes and material have been ordered that are needed to handle dead bodies.