Could Ebola reach New Zealand?

BRITTANY MANN
Last updated 13:10 30/07/2014

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The worst Ebola disease outbreak on record is unlikely to reach New Zealand from west Africa, the Ministry of Health's director of public health says.

Ebola, a viral disease, has killed at least 672 people  in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone since it originated in Guinea in February, the World Health Organisation (WHO) reported.

A Liberian American man who died in Lagos, Nigeria, last week, had also tested positive.

Latest WHO figures listed 1201 suspected, probable or confirmed cases in the West African region. Sierra Leone had the most - 525.

However, horror at the crisis was all that was likely to be contracted by New Zealanders.

"The risk of infection for travellers is very low since most human infections result from direct contact with the body fluids or secretions of infected patients," director of public health Dr Darren Hunt said.

"It is unlikely that New Zealand will have a case of Ebola virus disease because of our geographic isolation and the lack of direct flights to the affected countries. While the incubation period is two to 21 days, it is most commonly five to 10 days. Additionally, the affected countries are not common destinations for New Zealand travellers", he said.

Ministry policy on Ebola was informed by the WHO, which had not recommended travel or trade restrictions to affected areas, he said.

A Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (Mfat) spokesperson said five New Zealanders were registered on safetravel.govt.nz as being in Sierra Leone, three were in Liberia, two were in Guinea and 37 in Nigeria. There may be more New Zealanders in the region, who were not registered.

Mfat was not able to provide further details, for privacy reasons.

The bulk of the response to the epidemic had been provided by humanitarian non-governmental organisations Médecins Sans Frontières and the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement.

A New Zealand Red Cross spokesperson said the organisation had no one assisting with the epidemic "on the ground".

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