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Scientific Committee on Emerging and Zoonotic Diseases updated on outbreak of Ebola virus disease in Western Africa region

     The Scientific Committee on Emerging and Zoonotic Diseases (SCEZD) under the Centre for Health Protection (CHP) of the Department of Health convened a meeting today (August 19) to update on the outbreak of Ebola virus disease (EVD) in the Western Africa region and the corresponding local response in disease prevention and control.

     "The SCEZD is of the view that preventive strategies currently adopted in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region are in line with preventive and control measures recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO) for all Member States," a spokesman for the CHP remarked.

     At the meeting, Members were updated that, from March 23 to August 13, 2014, a total of 2 127 EVD cases (including 1 145 deaths) had been reported in four African countries, namely Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria and Sierra Leone. The case fatality rate remained high at around 54 per cent. The situation is not yet under control and further international spread is of particular concern.

     The SCEZD noted that, apart from the index case(s) infected in December 2013, all other human cases were believed to have been exposed to Ebola virus through contact with infected or deceased humans. Health-care-associated clusters have also been reported.

     Members were aware of the risk assessment of the WHO that patients not seeking proper medical care and failing to follow safe burial practices were key to transmission in affected areas. In addition, porous ground crossings, limited health measures at borders and other cross-border activities have increased the risk of spread among affected areas.

     Ebola virus can spread through human-to-human transmission via direct contact with the blood, secretions, organs or other bodily fluids of infected people through broken skin or mucous membranes, and indirect contact with environments contaminated with such fluids. Burial ceremonies where mourners have direct contact with the body of the deceased also play a role in transmission of Ebola virus. Prolonged virus shedding can occur up to seven weeks after recovery from illness.

     The SCEZD was also briefed on how health-care workers have frequently been infected while treating patients suspected of or confirmed with EVD through close contact when infection control precautions were not strictly practised.

     The WHO held a meeting of the Emergency Committee under the International Health Regulations (2005) regarding the 2014 EVD outbreak in West Africa on August 6 and 7, 2014. The Director-General of the WHO declared on August 8, 2014 the EVD outbreak in West Africa a Public Health Emergency of International Concern upon the assessment of the Committee.

     "The SCEZD agreed that the risk of importation of EVD cases to Hong Kong exists due to extensive international travel. However, the SCEZD was convinced by the local well-developed public health and hospital infrastructure that, with the heightened awareness of public and health-care professionals, the risk of Ebola virus spreading across the community could be reduced," the CHP spokesman said.

     Members arrived at consensus that the public should avoid unnecessary travel to affected areas. Travellers should always observe good personal and environmental hygiene, and avoid contact with sick persons and wild animals. Travellers returning from affected areas should closely observe their health conditions. If they develop symptoms of EVD within 21 days of returning from affected areas, they should call 999 and inform the staff about their condition to arrange consultation in an Accident and Emergency Department.

     Vigilance against EVD among health-care professionals is equally crucial. Locally, EVD is a notifiable disease under viral haemorrhagic fever. Patients meeting reporting criteria should be isolated and the CHP should be notified immediately. Health-care professionals should practise strict infection control measures to minimise the risk of transmission in health-care settings.

     Members concluded with the recommendations below to prevent and control the spread of Ebola virus:

* Implement appropriate measures at boundary control points based on the latest overseas situation to assist in early identification of suspected EVD cases;
* Continue intensive surveillance for EVD so as to detect, investigate, isolate and manage any suspected case promptly;
* Health-care professionals should practise stringent infection control measures;
* Maintain close liaison with the WHO, monitor its latest recommendations, and adopt preventive and control measures as appropriate;
* Enhance health education to travellers and the public; and
* Closely monitor the availability of safe and effective vaccines and antivirals for EVD.

     The Consensus Summary has also been uploaded to the SCEZD's webpage (

Ends/Tuesday, August 19, 2014
Issued at HKT 18:01


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