31 Jul 2014

NZ warned to monitor Ebola outbreak

5:01 pm on 31 July 2014

A virologist says authorities need to monitor the Ebola outbreak in West Africa closely to make sure it doesn't arrive in New Zealand.

The deadly virus has so far killed at least 672 people across three West African countries.

Dr Sue Huang from the Institute of Environmental Science and Research said New Zealanders are avid travellers, so every person who goes through West Africa needs to be aware.

She said the current outbreak is the largest in history and New Zealand needs to avoid a situation where a traveller gets infected and brings it back to the country.

Chances very low

The Ministry of Health says the chances of the Ebola virus reaching New Zealand are very low, but plans are in place to deal with disease outbreaks.

Director of public health Darren Hunt, said it's unlikely Ebola will get this far. He said New Zealand doesn't have many direct flights or travellers from the affected area.

He said the virus is not easily spread from person-to person. He said it requires contact with body fluids from an infected person and the people most at risk are those in the same household or those caring for others with the virus.

Members of Doctors Without Borders (MSF) wearing protective gear outside an Ebola isolation ward in Guinea

Members of Doctors Without Borders (MSF) wearing protective gear outside an Ebola isolation ward in Guinea Photo: AFP

Global measures

World governments are starting to take measures to prevent the further spread of the Ebola outbreak in West Africa.

Doctors Without Borders (MSF) said the crisis gripping Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone will only get worse and warned there is no overarching strategy to handle the world's worst-ever outbreak of the disease.

In Britain, Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said his government viewed the outbreak as a very serious threat to Britain, and has held a crisis meeting with the government's emergency committee. Earlier this month Public Health England issued an alert to UK doctors to be aware of symptoms of the haemorrhagic fever.

Authorities in Hong Kong have said they would quarantine as a precautionary measure any visitors from Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia who showed fever symptoms.

Several West African airlines have now stopped flying to Liberia and Sierra Leone amid concerns about the spread of the disease to those countries from Guinea.