South Africa’s National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) assured the public Thursday that there are no cases of Ebola within the nation and it is not testing for any cases in neighboring countries, following miscommunication over an Ebola drill at a Lesotho border crossing.
“The NICD houses the only biosafety level 4 laboratory for Southern Africa to diagnose Ebola,” the agency explained in its statement. “The NICD, in addition, understands that countries, from time to time, perform Ebola Virus Disease simulation exercises to test their preparedness for disease outbreaks and threats.”
That was precisely the case in the town of Ficksburg, where authorities were conducting a simulation drill involving a mock Ebola-positive patient traveling from Lesotho into South Africa. The Eyewitness News media outlet was quick to report that the woman was rushed to the hospital from the crossing.
“Lesotho health officials said that their counterparts in Johannesburg had confirmed that blood and urine samples of the woman suspected to have contracted Ebola tested positive,” the first news account said. “She claimed that she came into contact with a Democratic Republic of Congo national while in South Africa and that both of them developed symptoms of the virus. It’s not clear where the DRC citizen is now.”
Fortunately, despite initial public alarm over the report, health officials corrected the information.
“Chances of Ebola reaching South Africa are very slim,” the NICD said. “Nonetheless, South Africa has strong response systems that are in place should there be a suspected case.”
The Ebola outbreak in DR Congo, now in its second year, has required neighboring African countries to train for the possibility that the virus could enter their countries through travel. Although reports of new cases have slowed, the outbreak death toll stands at 2,193, according to the latest World Health Organization situation report.
The prequalification approval earlier this week of the Merck vaccine Ervebo, used previously in trials in DR Congo, has added to the optimism that the Ebola virus will be contained.
“This is a historic step towards ensuring the people who most need it are able to access this life-saving vaccine,” said WHO chief Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. “Five years ago, we had no vaccine and no therapeutics for Ebola. With a prequalified vaccine and experimental therapeutics, Ebola is now preventable and treatable.”
Image: WHO file