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India to screen, track passengers for Ebola


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New Delhi: India yesterday announced a slew of steps in the light of the outbreak of Ebola virus in west African countries, including screening and tracking of passengers originating or transiting from there, and asked its nationals to defer non-essential travel to that region.

There are close to 45,000 Indians in affected countries.  If the situation worsens in these countries, there could be possibility of Indians staying there travelling back to India, Health Minister Harsh Vardhan informed the Indian Parliament. "All precautions are being taken by us. While the risk of Ebola virus cases in India is low, preparedness measures are in place to deal with any case of the virus imported to India," the minister said in a statement. 

World Health Organisation (WHO) has reported 1603 cases, including 887 deaths, till August 4 in Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Nigeria. The number of cases is 485, 468, 646 and four from these countries, respectively and the corresponding death toll is 358, 255, 273 and one, respectively.  

Mandatory self-reporting by the passengers coming from or transiting through the affected countries would be required at immigration check, Vardhan said, adding in-flight announcements regarding this would also be made by the airlines. "There would be designated facilities at the relevant airports and ports to manage travellers manifesting symptoms of the disease. The surveillance system would be geared up to track these travellers for four weeks and to detect them early, in case they develop symptoms," he said.  

Vardhan said the risk of transmission of the virus to countries outside African region is "low" but "we would obtain details of travellers originating or transiting through affected countries to India and tracking these persons after their arrival up to their final destination".

The government also recommended that non-essential travel to these countries be deferred till the situation is brought under control. In Africa, the Ebola virus is carried by the fruit bats which then infect animals like the chimpanzee, gorilla, monkey and forest antelope. Humans catch the infection either from the infected animals or from infected humans when they come in close contact with infected body fluids or body secretions.

Review meeting
A review meeting was held on Tuesday which was attended by representatives from the health, home, external affairs and civil aviation ministries besides those from armed forces, National Disaster Management Authority and WHO.

The Director General of Health Services reviewed the situation and has issued advisories to the State Disease Surveillance Units to be on alert for early detection and management of travel related cases. Laboratory capacity has also been strengthened at the National Institute of Virology, Pune and National Centre for Disease Control, Delhi, to diagnose this viral disease.

The Armed Forces would be advising their personnel in the affected region about ways to reduce the infection. The armed forces personnel returning to India on leave or otherwise coming back would be suitably tracked and monitored for symptoms.

While there is no vaccine or curative therapy for Ebola virus, disease outbreaks can be contained through early detection and isolation of cases, contact tracing and monitoring.

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