QUEENSLAND’S chief health officer has warned it would be “very, very difficult” to safely send a team of Australian doctors to West Africa to fight Ebola.
Jeannette Young has been briefing Queensland health workers, their unions and airport staff yesterday and today about the state’s contingency plans should an Ebola case be confirmed.
Queensland has had three Ebola scares, two of which have been declared false alarms. The third, that of an 18-year-old woman who developed a low-grade fever after arriving from Guinea two weeks ago, is expected to be confirmed as negative with a second test this afternoon.
Quizzed by reporters this morning in Brisbane, Dr Young she thought Australia’s approach to the virus had been appropriate. She refused to buy into criticism of the federal government’s decision not to send doctors to West Africa.
“It would be very, very difficult to safely send a team to West Africa because of the distance to bring someone back,” Dr Young said.
“I actually think our responsibility is to our sphere of the world.”
She said it was unlikely Queensland would get any confirmed cases of Ebola, but it was important to be prepared.
Since border protection measures were introduced on August 9, she said 115 people had arrived in Queensland from the three Ebola-affected countries in West Africa, as well as low-risk nations such as Nigeria and the Congo.
The number is more than 800 nationwide.
All of those people are questioned by border protection officials at the border and, if necessary, placed into voluntary home quarantine.
Currently, there are 19 people in home quarantine in Queensland, but none are showing symptoms.
Dr Young said Queensland Health was staging an exercise on Wednesday next week, with a simulated suspected Ebola case in Roma, in relatively remote southern Queensland, to be evacuated by plane to Brisbane.
Queensland is in a unique position in Australia, given it has three international airports (in Brisbane, the Gold Coast and Cairns), where other states have one or none.
Dr Young has briefed staff from hospitals in those three cities, as well as the two Brisbane hospitals designated to treat any confirmed Ebola cases: the Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital and the Mater Children’s. However, she stressed the risk was very low.
“We don’t expect to have one case, let alone more than that,” she said.
Ebola requires direct contact with bodily fluids of an infected person to be transmitted. It is impossible to catch from a cough or a sneeze.
Dr Young said the majority of cases had occurred in West Africa due to their burial practices.