Australia: Ebola Patients From Pacific Islands Might be Flown in as Experts Say Airborne Transmission Possible

October 18, 2014 Updated: October 19, 2014    

People who contract Ebola in the Pacific islands could be flown into Australia for treatment, the country’s health minister announced recently.

Australia will be not be flying its own citizens in from Africa if they contract the virus because there are serious doubts as to whether an infected person could survive the 30-hour flight. But problems closer to home would prompt a response.

“If we need to fly people back to Australia for medical attention we can do that very quickly if we could not provide support for them adequately in [their own] country,” health minister Peter Dutton told radio station 3AW.

In such a scenario infected patients would most likely be flown to Darwin for treatment. But Dutton noted that such a scenario would be a last resort.

“China or Japan have their own well and truly developed plans but if you’re talking about a Pacific island nation there is an obligation [on] us,” Dutton said, citing Papua New Guinea as an example.

11 people have tested negative for Ebola in Australia. None have been tested in the Pacific islands, according to reports.

Deputy opposition leader Tanya Plibersek agreed that Australia should help efforts against the virus, with perhaps a different timeline idea in mind.

Doctors Without Borders (MSF), staffer Brett Adamson, from Australia, briefs local MSF staff on procedures at the new Ebola treatment center on August 17, 2014 near Monrovia, Liberia. (John Moore/Getty Images)
Doctors Without Borders (MSF), staffer Brett Adamson, from Australia, briefs local MSF staff on procedures at the new Ebola treatment center on August 17, 2014 near Monrovia, Liberia. (John Moore/Getty Images)

 

“We can not afford to wait until Ebola reaches out to Australia before Australia becomes part of the global effort to control this virus,” she told reporters in Sydney, reported News AU.

To help prevent the virus from entering Australia, new precautions have been implemented. That includes screening passengers from West Africa, a practice started in early August.

“People returning from Nigeria, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea have been taken aside from passport control,” Australia’s chief medical officer Professor Chris Baggoley told ABC.

“Biosecurity staff ask whether they have been in contact with Ebola patients, whether they attended funerals, or whether they have had a fever in the last 24 hours.”

Authorities have screened more than 700 passengers so far. Another new system alerts officials when healthcare workers leave Australia to Ebola-affected areas, and when they return home again.

The Gold Coast University Hospital on September 11, 2014 on the Gold Coast, Australia. A 27-year-old man was taken to hospital after complaining of a fever and revealing he recently returned from a trip to the Congo. He later tested negative, one of 11 Australians to do so so far. (Chris Hyde/Getty Images)
The Gold Coast University Hospital on September 11, 2014 on the Gold Coast, Australia. A 27-year-old man was taken to hospital after complaining of a fever and revealing he recently returned from a trip to the Congo. He later tested negative, one of 11 Australians to do so so far. (Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

 

Meanwhile, some experts note that the line officials around the world are using–that the virus cannot be transmitted other than through direct contact–is not correct.

“Some policy and guidelines around infection control are driven more by ideology and paradigms of thinking than science,” Raina MacIntyre, head of the School of Public Health at UNSW told Fairfax Media.

“It goes back to this issue of transmission of infection, which is central to the debate around Ebola. The view is that infection can be categorised into airborne, droplets and contact. And that Ebola [is relegated] to contact transmission.

“Yes, contact is the predominant mode of transmission, but there are studies that show Ebola can be transmitted in other ways. It is a relatively under-studied disease, so to be making very emphatic statements about how it’s transmitted is not wise.” 

“I’m sympathetic to the messages being conveyed by health authorities because the last thing you need in public health is confusion,” said another Australian health expert, who didn’t wish to be named but leans towards Professor MacIntyre’s argument, reported the Sydney Morning Herald.

“It’s a fine line between wanting a consistent message, and abandoning necessary scientific scepticism. There is still uncertainty about modes of transmission, and there is some debate about what constitutes an at-risk contact.” 

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