By Hennie Pretorius, journalist, Justmoney
Fear has been struck into the hearts of many as the worst outbreak of Ebola since its discovery, over 40 years ago, is spreading across West African countries.
On 14 August 2014 the World Health Organisation (WHO
) reported 1975 cases of Ebola, with 1069 deaths. Areas most affected by the disease include Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria, and Sierra Leone. Some reports say it may be worse than reported, with cases possibly being double to what have been reported.
Even though the WHO has authorised the use of an experimental drug, it has stated that the effectiveness of experimental drugs are yet to be determined:
“Evidence of their effectiveness is suggestive, but not based on solid scientific data from clinical trials. Safety is also unknown, raising the possibility of adverse side effects when administered to humans.”
The WHO does not expect to have a fully tested and licensed vaccine against Ebola until sometime next year and warns against malicious rumours regarding cures, after two people from Nigeria have died from drinking salt water after being told it will protect them from contracting Ebola.
“The Ebola virus is highly contagious but only under very specific conditions involving close contact with the bodily fluids of an infected person or corpse.
“Apart from these specific opportunities for exposure to the virus, the general public is not at high risk of infection,” says the WHO.
Do South African medical aids cover Ebola?
One of South Africa’s leading health service providers, Momentum Health, says yes, Momentum will cover you if you contract Ebola, in terms of the in-hospital medical treatment required, the same as they do for a condition like flu.
However, Ebola does not have a high rate of recovery with 90% of those contracting Ebola being fatal, but the chances of one contracting Ebola if you are living in South Africa are minimal.
“Unless you’re living in one of the West African countries, you most likely won’t,” says Dr Russell Thomson from Hello Doctor
How to prepare for Ebola
There are certain precautions one can take to limit the contraction of Ebola. Karin Claassen, marketing manager for Momentum Health
together with Thomson provides some useful tips:
*Avoid travelling into infected areas – Ebola is a very serious disease with a low recovery rate. There’s currently no tested cure available for Ebola.
You should be VERY cautious if you are travelling in these areas, or plan to travel there in the near future. However, Thomson advises postponing any travel to these areas.
*Know the symptoms – Ebola starts with very sudden flu-like symptoms which include a high fever with chills, extreme fatigue, body aches, chest pain and severe headaches. Other symptoms include nausea, stomach pain, diarrhoea, vomiting, a very sore throat and a cough.
Ebola seems to affect the central nervous system, which explains the advanced stage symptoms of severe headaches, agitation, confusion, seizures, and even coma.
The incubation period for Ebola is around 13 days, which means it takes this amount of time between being exposed to the virus and showing the first signs and symptoms of illness.
*Know how Ebola is spread – The Ebola virus is transmitted when a person eats meat (usually “bush meat”) that is contaminated with the virus. Fruit bats are the perfect carriers, and they’re also a local delicacy, which could explain why the outbreak in West Africa has spread so fast.
A person can also become infected if they come into contact with any body fluids from an infected person. Body fluids include blood, vomit, urine, saliva and diarrhoea.
Care workers in affected areas wear full hazmat (protective) suits and patients have to be isolated. Practicing basic hygiene is very, very important.
*Visit your doctor – It’s very important that you visit your doctor before leaving the country, even if it’s only for a few days.
Speak to them and let them know where you are going. They should be able to provide you with the right info on how to protect yourself.
You should also consider travel health insurance – nothing beats being prepared, even if you don’t need it in the end.
* Keep your medical aid close by – Apart from making sure that you are on a medical aid option that provides healthcare while you travel, having your medical scheme’s app installed on your phone is very important.
For example, Momentum’s mobile health app will allow you to find your nearest doctor in South Africa, get authorisation for a procedure, check your benefits and even access information relating to your condition.