The Saudi government is taking steps to prevent the spread of the highly contagious Ebola virus, which has a case fatality rate of up to 90% and causes muscular pains, fever, headaches and in some cases, internal and external haemorrhaging.
The kingdom has taken preventative measures to stop the virus entering from the West African countries where most cases have been recorded, in addition to tightening its measures countrywide and at border crossings.
World Health Organisation (WHO) procedures require that blood samples be sent to international laboratories to ascertain the diagnosis in the event of fatalities, said Dr. Waheed Abdul Majeed, an infectious diseases specialist at a state hospital in Jeddah.
By following these steps, “we can inspect the status of the virus to see whether it has changed or remained as it was observed in African countries”, he said.
The Saudi Ministry of Health followed this procedure last week after a Saudi man died while showing symptoms similar to Ebola, Abdul Majeed said. The man tested negative for the virus.
In the event of a suspected fatality from the virus, the kingdom creates a timeline of all the areas the deceased visited and the people with whom he came into contact, the doctor said. These people will then undergo compulsory and detailed medical tests to make sure they are virus-free.
Infection occurs through direct contact with the blood or bodily secretions of an infected person, he said.
The WHO announced an emergency plan to contain the virus after the first case was recorded in Guinea on February 9th. Since then, the number of confirmed Ebola cases has reached 1,779 with 961 deaths, based on the latest WHO figures.
In an August 8th statement, the WHO said an emergency committee that convened to discuss the outbreak in West Africa had unanimously agreed that the conditions for a Public Health Emergency of International Concern have been met.
“Although the International Air Transport Association has not yet placed restrictions on travel due to the Ebola virus, Saudi Arabia has taken several precautions to avoid a catastrophic outbreak in the kingdom,” said Faisal Aba Zaid of the public administration for the affairs of pilgrims at the Ministry of Hajj.
New measures include strict health monitoring at airports for arriving Saudis and visitors coming from countries where the virus has been cited or is prevalent, he said.
In April, Saudi Arabia stopped issuing visitor, hajj and umrah visas to residents of Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia, and Saudi health authorities have put tight controls in place at the kingdom’s holy places in order to detect anyone exhibiting symptoms of the virus, Aba Zaid said.
Aba Zaid said he did not expect the hajj season to be affected by the epidemic in light of the tight preventative health measures Saudi Arabia has put in place.
The Ministry of Hajj is working with the Ministry of Health to keep abreast of the latest news and WHO updates related to the Ebola virus and to implement any required measures, he said.
“Medical centres and infirmaries located in areas where pilgrims gather have been equipped with quarantine units, especially as there are no globally recognised drugs to treat the virus,” he said.
“The Saudi authorities have taken serious preventative measures at land, sea and air ports and a medical staff of nurses and doctors have been stationed at the different ports and airports,” said Saad al-Shaaban, a customs officer at the Jeddah Islamic Port.
Detailed guidelines providing information on how to deal with any suspected case of the virus also have been distributed to staff at these crossings, he told Al-Shorfa.