Indian troops deployed in UN peacekeeping operations in west and central Africa have been put on high alert against the Ebola virus following the deadliest outbreak of the disease in the region, the Health Ministry said on Friday.
The Ebola virus has killed 729 people in Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia and Nigeria this year, sparking concerns about the threat of the virus travelling out of Africa and causing outbreaks across continents.
India refrained from issuing a travel warning following a Health Ministry risk-assessment meeting on Friday, which concluded that the armed forces deployed as UN peacekeepers in the three worst-affected countries -- Liberia, Sudan and Congo – were a bigger concern than travellers because there are no direct flights from these countries. The meeting was also attended by representatives of the armed forces medical service.
“The armed forces have been advised to sensitise and screen peacekeepers returning home, and airport authorities have been advised to begin passive surveillance by asking all passengers travelling from affected countries to report symptoms to health officers at airports, so that they can be isolated and tested for Ebola," said Union Health Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan.
"Despite low risk, the Union health ministry will have functioning testing and surveillance systems by next week,” he added.
The US has issued a travel advisory against non-essential travel to Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia, but the World Health Organisation maintains the current risk of an Ebola outbreak outside Africa is low.
The contagious disease, which has no known cure, has symptoms that include sudden fever, muscle pain and vomiting, followed by external and internal bleeding that leads to death.
Unlike or swine flu, or the H1N1 virus, which was airborne, the Ebola virus spreads through direct contact with bodily fluids of infected people, which makes it less contagious than the flu.
"Primers used to confirm Ebola virus infection by ELISA (for rapid testing) and RT-PCR (to analyse gene expression) tests have arrived and both Delhi's National Centre for Disease Control and Pune's National Institute of Virology are equipped to test for the Ebola virus," said Dr P. Ravindran, who heads emergency medical relief in the ministry of health.
"The incubation period for the virus is 21 days and infected travellers can slip in without displaying symptoms, which beats the purpose of using scanners to detect fever," he added.