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India braces for war on Ebola, new labs set up

world Updated: Oct 22, 2014 07:59 IST
Rhythma Kaul

India has identified 10 additional labs to test for the Ebola virus and a four-member rapid response team from each state to quickly spot, isolate and trace people suspected to have the deadly disease that has killed over 4,500 people worldwide.

These laboratories will supplement the existing two – National Centre for Disease Control in Delhi, and the National Institute of Virology in Pune – equipped to test blood samples for the Ebola virus disease (EVD).

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India has been on high alert since the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the Ebola outbreak an international public health emergency in August. More than 9,200 people were infected in seven countries till October14 – according to latest WHO data –in the worst Ebola epidemic on record that began in West Africa in March.

“Indian Council for Medical Research (ICMR) has short-listed 10 new labs specialising in virology to test for the virus,” said a senior official in the health ministry, requesting anonymity as he is not authorised to speak to the media. “It takes 24 hours for the test results, but in an emergency, these labs will have results ready in 12 hours.”

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International guidelines require laboratories to comply with biosafety level-2 (BSL-2) precautions to contain the virus, but labs in the US have been asked to adopt safety measures associated with BSL-3. BSL-3 is applicable to work involving indigenous or exotic agents that may cause potentially lethal diseases through the inhalation route.

From October 27, the identified rapid response teams – each comprising a general physician, microbiologist, epidemiologist and nurse – will undergo extensive training in the WHO and US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention protocols to treat Ebola.

The rapid responders will be trained in checking people for signs and symptoms, contact tracing, sample collection, diagnosis, treatment and containment to restrict people-to-people contact.

Read: French scientists devise fast-track test for Ebola

“These state teams will further instruct rapid responders at the district level to have an adequate number of people trained in infection-control practices at the community level,” said a government official.

A batch of 44 “master trainers” is currently being trained in public health preparedness and Ebola response at New Delhi’s National Institute of Health and Family Welfare. Senior health department officials from 12 states with international airports attended a three-day workshop.

“The participants are all senior functionaries in their state’s health departments and are being sensitised to ensure guidelines are properly followed,” said an official.