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Health experts say Ebola virus poses little risk to UAE

ABU DHABI // The Ebola virus that has killed hundreds in West Africa poses little risk to the UAE, experts have said.

The odds are low that an Ebola infection could reach the country and lead to an outbreak, said Dr Salwan Ibrahim, Middle East medical director for International SOS in Dubai.

“The Ebola virus is a potentially severe illness and the outbreak in West Africa has led to a major international response,” Dr Ibrahim said.

“However, the likelihood of the outbreak spreading outside of West Africa is low. But it is important to take necessary steps to mitigate the risks.”

That means doctors globally should be diligent in watching for patients showing early symptoms.

The chances of contracting the disease while travelling is also minimal, Dr Ibrahim said.

But it is important that travellers to West Africa are educated on the precautions they should take to mitigate the risk of becoming infected.

“That includes paying strict attention to hygiene, avoiding hospitals that are treating suspected Ebola cases, avoiding contact with sick people and their bodily fluids, and avoiding communal hand washing during public events,” Dr Ibrahim said.

The number of requests to International SOS’s global assistance centres relating specifically to Ebola was up by 400 per cent in June compared with May, said Dr Ibrahim.

“The number of calls International SOS has actioned globally clearly indicates that people around the world are taking the outbreak of the Ebola virus seriously, and rightly so,” he said.

But the outbreak in West Africa is unlikely to trigger a major pandemic, he said.

Dr Ibrahim’s words were echoed by Prof Peter Piot, the scientist who helped to discover the Ebola virus.

Prof Piot told Agence France-Presse on Thursday that he would sit next to an infected patient on the London Underground, as infection requires very close contact.

Fears that the West African Ebola outbreak could spread to other continents were heightened after it emerged that a US citizen had died from the disease after an international flight from Liberia to Nigeria with a stopover at Lome, Togo.

Experts had warned that the virus could be spread further afield by infected people travelling by plane.

But the International Air Transport Association said on Thursday that there would be a low risk to other passengers if an Ebola patient flew.

Emirates Airline had earlier this year announced more services to Nigeria, but could not be reached to say if those plans had been changed.

Etihad Airways said it was keeping a close eye on the outbreak in West Africa.

“The safety and well-being of Etihad Airways’ passengers and staff is of paramount importance and the airline continues to closely monitor the Ebola outbreak in West Africa,” a spokesman said.

“We are in regular contact with global and regional authorities, as well as the Health Authority – Abu Dhabi, about the potential risks,” said a spokesman.

A spokesman at Dubai International Airport said management could not comment on matters relating to the Ministry of Health.

The Ministry of Health, the Health Authority – Abu Dhabi and Dubai Health Authority could not be reached for a comment.

As yet, the World Health Organisation has not recommended travel restrictions or border closures due to the Ebola outbreak.

As of July 25, there have been 1,201 cases of Ebola and 672 deaths in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, the WHO said.

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*With additional reporting by Reuters and Agence France-Presse.

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(via The National)