17 Oct 2014

NZ 'needs to be prepared for Ebola'

4:42 pm on 17 October 2014

Health Minister Jonathan Coleman has taken a tour of one of the special containment units set up to deal with any Ebola infections in New Zealand.

The biocontainment unit at Middlemore Hospital was set up in August and is one of four units in this country. The others are at Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch hospitals.

Dr Coleman said the country had to be prepared for what he was calling an international crisis.

"It's configured to the best of international standards. We're using best practice here, we've got the best doctors and should we have someone arrive at the borders we're absolutely well prepared."

He said while it was possible New Zealand would have to deal with an Ebola case, it was a low probability.

"It's quite possible we'll get someone who has travelled to an affected part of the world... the public should be totally reassured the New Zealand health system is totally geared up for any eventuality."

Dr Coleman said the Ministry of Health was making sure District Health Boards are prepared with messages going across the whole health system.

He said protocols here were taking on lessons as they are learned overseas.

Middlemore Hospital's clinical head of infectious diseases, Stephen McBride, dressed in personal protection gear.

Middlemore Hospital's clinical head of infectious diseases, Stephen McBride, dressed in personal protection gear. Photo: RNZ / Kim Baker Wilson

Middlemore Hospital's clinical head of infectious diseases Stephen McBride said the facility there had leading technology.

"The rest of it to be honest is built on standard precautions, the universal precautions we use for caring for patients and to minimise risks of blood and body fluid exposures.

"Obviously they're taking somewhat to Nth degree, but actually this is just truly the basics being ramped up."

Dr McBride said while Ebola was a worrying and troubling disease, it was one he believed New Zealand was extremely unlikely to see.

"But I think it's been obvious throughout recent history with the emergence of things like bird flu, swine flu, SARS - that these threats will come in time.

"I don't think I would ever say it's completely out of the realms of possibilities, perhaps not likely, but we have to be ready to adapt."

Sixty six people have been screened by Customs in New Zealand for Ebola since additional border checks were started in August.

The virus has killed nearly 4,500 people - here is a timeline of the outbreak:

  • March 22 - Guinea confirms a previously unidentified hemorrhagic fever, which killed more than 50 people, is Ebola.
  • March 30 - Liberia reports two Ebola cases; suspected cases reported in Sierra Leone.
  • April 1 - Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) warns the epidemic's spread is "unprecedented."
  • May 26 - WHO confirms first Ebola deaths in Sierra Leone.
  • June 17 - Liberia reports Ebola in its capital, Monrovia.
  • July 25 - Nigeria confirms its first Ebola case, a man who died in Lagos after travelling from Monrovia.
  • July 29 - Dr. Sheik Umar Khan, who was leading Sierra Leone's fight against the epidemic, dies of Ebola.
  • Aug. 2 - A US missionary physician infected with Ebola in Liberia is flown to Atlanta in the United States for treatment.
  • Aug. 5 - A second U.S. missionary infected with Ebola is flown from Liberia to Atlanta for treatment.
  • Aug. 8 - WHO declares Ebola "international public health emergency."
  • Aug. 12 - WHO says death toll tops 1,000, approves use of unproven drugs or vaccines. A Spanish priest with Ebola dies in Madrid hospital.
  • Aug. 28 - WHO puts death toll above 1,550, warns outbreak could infect more than 20,000.
  • Aug. 29 - Senegal reports first confirmed Ebola case.
  • Sept. 3 - Epidemic accelerates; deaths top 1,900. Officials say close to 400 deaths in past week.
  • Sept. 5 - Latest WHO tally: more than 2,100 dead out of about 4,000 people thought to have been infected.
  • Sept. 7 - President Barack Obama says United States needs to do more to help prevent Ebola from becoming a global crisis.
  • Sept. 16 - WHO says 2,461 dead out of 4,985 infected, doubling death toll in the past month.
  • Sept. 18 - WHO says 2,630 dead out of 5,357 thought infected.
  • Sept. 20 - Liberian Thomas Eric Duncan flies from Liberia to Dallas via Brussels and Washington after trying to help woman with Ebola in his home country.
  • Sept. 23 - CDC estimates between 550,000 and 1.4 million people in West Africa may have Ebola by January.
  • Sept. 25 - Duncan goes to Dallas hospital with fever, abdominal pain. He is sent back to his apartment.
  • Sept. 26 - New WHO tally: 3,091 dead out of 6,574 probable, suspected and confirmed cases.
  • Sept. 28 - Duncan returns by ambulance to Dallas hospital.
  • Sept. 30 - CDC confirms Duncan has Ebola; first case diagnosed in the United States.
  • Oct. 3 - WHO says 3,439 dead out of 7,492 suspected, probable and confirmed cases in West Africa and the United States, which has one.
  • Oct. 6 - Spanish nurse is infected with Ebola; she treated infected Spanish priest who was repatriated to Madrid and died.
  • Oct. 8 - Duncan, the first person diagnosed with Ebola in the United States, dies in Dallas hospital.
  • Oct. 9 - WHO revises Ebola death toll to 3,865 out of 8,033 cases, says there is no evidence epidemic is being brought under control in West Africa.
  • Oct. 10 - WHO raises death toll to 4,033 out of 8,399 cases in seven countries. Most fatalities are in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea.
  • Oct. 12 - Nurse Nina Pham in Dallas tests positive for Ebola, becoming first person to contract the virus in the United States.
  • Oct. 15 - Officials say second Texas nurse who treated Duncan, Amber Vinson, has contracted Ebola.
  • Oct. 15 - WHO raises death toll to 4,493 people out of 8,997 cases; says epidemic still spreading in West Africa.

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