(Transcript from World News Radio)
Guinea says it has brought the spread of the deadly Ebola virus under control after more than 100 deaths.
The outbreak in the west African country is one of the world’s most deadly, with 157 people infected and 101 deaths in Guinea alone.
The World Health Organisation has described the outbreak as one of the most challenging since the virus emerged in 1976 in what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo.
So what is Ebola and is Australia at risk?
Darren Mara, with this report by Laura Corrigan.
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The World Health Organisation says African fruit bats are the natural hosts of the Ebola virus.
Medical aid agency Medecins Sans Frontieres says the virus is spread through close contact between infected animals and humans.
MSF spokesperson Sam Taylor is in Guinea treating the virus.
He says there are mistaken beliefs of how it is spread.
“It is a contagious disease but it’s not like the flu; it’s not a disease you can catch from sitting next to somebody on the bus. You really have to be exposed to the bodily fluids of somebody who is very, very sick to catch the disease.”
He says the virus is being contained in Guinea through isolation and careful hygiene procedures for infected people and any people they come in contact with.
Professor Alexander Khromykh, from the University of Queensland, has been collaborating with a group in France to try to develop a vaccine.
“The chances are 25 to 90 per cent that you will die. The initial symptoms involve fever and muscle ache, flu-like symptoms, but after a few days you get haemorrhagic bleeding, bleeding all over the place, then liver and kidney failure.”
Dr John Mackenzie is the Premier’s Research Fellow at Curtin University’s Centre for International Health.
He says an outbreak in Australia is unlikely.
“You have to realise that we don’t have any Ebola in Australia and there’s actually no way, I believe, it could come in by any other route than somebody bringing it in — and that is very, very unlikely.”
Dr Mackenzie says the long travel time from the affected countries is some protection for Australia.
“I think there’s absolutely a very, very tiny risk of anyone coming to Australia. It’s almost negligible. Because the person would be too sick to travel, or if they were infected and they hadn’t come out yet with the infection it would happen before they get to Australia and when they arrived here they’d be immediately hospitalised and we have very good procedures in place.”
Smart Traveller is the Australian government’s travel advice service.
Spokesman Shane Flanagan says Australians should avoid travelling to areas where there’s an Ebola outbreak.
“The outbreak has been confirmed in Guinea, Liberia, and there are unconfirmed and supected cases in Mali and Sierra Leone. So our first piece of advice is really where possible Australians should avoid the affected areas. Secondly, Australians should maintain high standards of hygiene. Certainly Australians should avoid direct contact with people who appear ill and not eat raw or undercooked meat, or indeed any kind of bush meat.”
Dr Timothy Newsome is a biochemistry and microbiology lecturer from Sydney University.
Dr Newsome says the only virus found in Australia which could be described as simillar to Ebola is the Hendra virus.
“We do have another quite deadly virus disease which broadly speaking in a similar group as Ebola virus, and that’s Hendra virus. Like Ebola virus, Hendra virus exists in an animal population. Hendra virus exists in flying foxes. And there’s been a number of outbreaks, particularly recently, of Hendra virus within Australia. Generally speaking these cases are horses who get infected from bats. Suprisingly the bats seem to be okay harbouring Hendra virus. Those horses die and occasionally, the people who treat – particularily vets – who treat these horses can get infected, and it’s got quite a high mortality rate in humans: about 50 per cent. So although it is a relatively rare occurence of humans getting infected, the high mortality rate does make it a risk.”
However Dr Newsome says Hendra, unlike Ebola, can be prevented.
“The CSIRO has recently developed a vaccine which can be used on horses and makes the jobs of our vets that little bit safer.”