Diseases do not respect borders. So, the ebola virus, which has originated this time in West Africa has now surfaced in the United States and Spain.
A female nurse, who treated Thomas Eric Duncan, the first person known to die of ebola in the US, has been tested positive for the deadly virus that has claimed at least 3,400 lives and infected double that number in West Africa. This marks the first-known transmission of ebola in the US.
Two things are worrisome. First, though India claims to have elaborate arrangements in place to screen travellers coming from ebola-affected countries, one cannot overlook the fact that the patient in the US case was asymptomatic when he went from Liberia to Dallas, highlighting that thermal scanners at airports are not foolproof.
That people can carry the virus for up to three weeks before showing any symptoms makes the job of the authorities concerned all the more difficult. Second, the nurse, who tested positive for ebola, was, in fact, wearing protective gloves, gown and mask while treating Duncan.
Though the Center for Disease Control and Prevention has blamed the “breach in protocol” for the spread, it has not specifically pointed out what it could be.
In India, where doctors and nurses often don’t wear protective gear — something that has been noted by Professor Peter Piot, who discovered ebola in 1976 — there is a great danger of contracting not just ebola but also other communicable diseases.
From enhancing screening measures at airports to ensuring that quarantine facilities are functional, India has a lot to do in order to scale up its response mechanism.
Instead of feeding fears, efforts should be made to create awareness about how ebola spreads —transmission requires direct contact with blood, secretions, organs or other body fluids of infected living or dead persons or animals.
Though ebola has been known since 1976, it is passing strange as to why there is no licensed vaccine as yet.
Could this be because big pharma does not want to invest in a disease that is essentially seen as prevalent in poor countries? But such complacency is misplaced. So the search for a vaccine is an imperative.
Till then, prevention is the only cure.