Cayman Prepares for Ebola
Government officials from 13 agencies are working together robustly, to mitigate against the threat of the Ebola virus, which reached the United States at the end of September.
Stakeholders have met regularly since mid-August to coordinate a joined up approach that has involved refining existing preparedness plans and procedures to satisfy the protocols necessary for successful containment of the virus.
Some areas under consideration by the Ebola planning committee have included: entry screening protocols; personal protective equipment (PPE); contact tracing; and contingency plans that cover issues such as transportation, isolation/quarantine, case management and infection control measures.
Medical Officer of Health, Dr Kiran Kumar, who heads the committee, describes inter-agency cooperation and communication to date as extremely productive. Members include Public Health, Health Services Authority, Ministry of Health, Ministry of Home Affairs, Hazard Management Cayman Islands, Environmental Health, the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service, the Cayman Islands Airports Authority, the Port Authority, Immigration, Customs, the Department of Tourism and Government Information Services.
Health Minister, Hon. Osbourne Bodden, says the group’s work has the full support of his ministry, the Cabinet and the Governor’s Office.
“Stakeholders are working hard to ensure that the Cayman Islands remains free of the virus, or that any outbreak is quickly contained. An emphasis has been placed on ensuring that staff at stakeholder agencies are both trained and informed about the disease. Government is also monitoring the situation in Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia and Nigeria, although the outbreak in that country appears to be contained,” Minister Bodden adds.
Commenting on the recent concern surrounding the Carnival Magic cruise ship, Minister Bodden says, “I am happy that the Carnival ship that was due here next week has gone back to home port, and so far we have not been exposed at any of our ports of entry.”
Deputy Chief Immigration Officer, Mr. Bruce Smith comments that his office is actively taking measures to identify passengers by way of a travellers questionnaire which asks specific ally about travel to West Africa within the past four weeks of their arrival in the Cayman Islands. The department will notify the Health Services Authority (as per protocol), where any have been to Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia or Nigeria.
Dr. Kumar says the Health Services Authority team will check temperatures of these travellers and they will be isolated if they have fever or quarantined if there is no fever, whether residents or visitors, for up to 21 days from the date of their departure from the affected countries.
The Health Services Authority’s Chief Executive Officer, Lizzette Yearwood, comments that travellers arriving from any destination who have fever will be treated as suspect cases, until confirmed positive for Ebola.
“Plans are also in place for the isolation and management of such cases until a full-fledged field unit can be arranged. We are procuring adequate protective gear for Cayman Islands Hospital staff, and have organised training in all aspects of the management of the virus with the support of an overseas health facility. We are confident we can manage if the need arises,” Ms Yearwood stresses.
In addition to overseeing local precautions, the Public Health Department, on behalf of Government, routinely communicates with international agencies such the Caribbean Public Health Agency, the Pan American Health Organization, the Centers for Disease Control and Public Health England.
Should the Ebola virus reach the Cayman Islands, these organisations have promised technical assistance with regards to the deployment of human resources and supplies, Dr Kumar notes.
Premier and Minister of Home Affairs Hon. Alden McLaughlin offered his own words of reassurance.
“Cabinet will meet Tuesday for a briefing and update on Ebola and our efforts on the ground in the Cayman Islands to keep the public safe. I can assure all that we have a robust communicable disease surveillance system already in place and the Ministry of Health, as well as the Health Services Authority, have already begun work on identifying protocols to deal with the disease should the need arise,” the Premier remarked.
The public will receive periodic updates on the global and regional situations with regards to the spread of Ebola, as well as the Cayman Islands’ readiness to cope with any local outbreak.
• The virus is transmitted to people from wild animals and spreads in the human population through human-to-human transmission. The first Ebola virus disease (EVD) outbreaks occurred in remote villages in Central Africa in the 1970s, near tropical rainforests, but the most recent outbreak in West Africa has involved major urban as well as rural areas.
• The average EVD case fatality rate is around 50%. Case fatality rates have varied from 25% to 90% in past outbreaks.
• Early supportive care with rehydration and symptomatic treatment improves survival rates.
• There is as yet no licensed treatment proven to neutralise the virus but a range of blood, immunological and drug therapies are under development.
• There are currently no licensed Ebola vaccines but two potential candidates are undergoing evaluation.
• The incubation period, which is, the time interval from infection with the virus to onset of symptoms is 2 to 21 days.
• Humans are not infectious until they develop symptoms.
• First symptoms are the sudden onset of fever fatigue, muscle pain, headache and sore throat. This is followed by vomiting, diarrhoea, rash, symptoms of impaired kidney and liver function, and in some cases, both internal and external bleeding (e.g. oozing from the gums, blood in the stools). Laboratory findings include low white blood cell and platelet counts and elevated liver enzymes.