UK & World News

  • 2 July 2014, 17:59

Ebola Outbreak: State Of Emergency 'Needed'

The doctor who first identified the deadly Ebola virus has warned the outbreak in West Africa is now so bad that a "state of emergency" should be declared.

Professor Peter Piot told Sky News that the disease, which kills up to 90% of patients, now affects such a wide area that it will be "difficult" to bring under control - and it will spread further without "very, very strict vigilance."

Prof Piot, now Director of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, helped to bring to an end to the first known outbreak of Ebola in Zaire in 1976.

There have since been more than 20 outbreaks in Central and West Africa. But the current epidemic affecting Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone was "unprecedented" he said.

The virus causes a high fever, organ failure and severe bleeding. Contact with any bodily fluid can transmit the virus. There is no treatment.

Prof Piot said: "We have waited too long. In cases like Ebola it is better to be accused of overacting than underestimating the situation.

"It is far more difficult to contain an epidemic that involves quarantine of people, isolation of patients and tracing their contacts when it has reached big urban populations.

"This has turned from a local problem to a regional crisis.

"Even countries that are not yet affected by Ebola may become affected. Mobility of people including patients and sometimes cadavers is high across borders and I think it's time for declaring a state of emergency."

Professor Piot said the World Health Organisation must engage with community leaders to explain to local populations the importance of isolating victims in hospital to prevent further transmission of the virus.

He said burial practices in which the infected body is washed by unprotected relatives must also cease.

"In theory Ebola is very easy to stop with gloves, soap, isolating patients, and not reusing needles and syringes," he said. "But in practice it is about people and their beliefs.

"If you think that someone dies of witchcraft or that western medicine is at the origin, that is something that must be overcome."

Professor Piot also urged medical authorities to try using anti-viral drugs to treat patients. Tests on infected monkeys have suggested the drugs work to some extent against Ebola.

"This is the time to try them," he said.

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