Targeted screening for Ebola at airport but risk to NZ very low

Media release

10 August 2014

The risk of any cases of Ebola in New Zealand remains very low, but health and border authorities are well prepared.

Deputy Director of Public Health Dr Fran McGrath says New Zealand is protected by its geographic isolation; we have no direct flights from West Africa and we receive very few travellers from there.

Dr McGrath says from today, anyone arriving in New Zealand who in the last three weeks has visited West African countries affected by the Ebola outbreak will be screened for symptoms of the disease and where necessary receive a health assessment.

Anyone arriving from these affected West African countries will also be given information about the symptoms of Ebola and advised how to seek help in New Zealand if they become unwell.

The changes are in line with similar targeted screening measures in Australia.  Unlike Australia we have no direct flights from Africa so this is an additional precaution.

Confirmed and suspected cases of Ebola have been, and are continuing to be reported in the West African countries of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

New Zealanders should carefully consider the need to travel to these areas.

In the very unlikely event that there was a case of Ebola in New Zealand, it is expected that it would be an isolated case.

Ebola is not easy to catch; it is not spread through the air, it's not as infectious as the flu or measles. You cannot get Ebola just from sitting next to someone on a plane - it requires contact with infected bodily fluids.

Local and international expert advice, together with international experience of managing other viral haemorrhagic diseases, is that the Ebola would be well contained in countries with health services like ours.

The health sector is very familiar with controlling and managing cases of infectious diseases. If there was a suspected case of Ebola the person would be promptly treated in hospital isolation.

Isolation facilities and existing infection control protocols in New Zealand hospitals are adequate for treating an imported case. Given the serious nature of the disease, samples would be sent to a high security reference laboratory overseas for testing.

The Ministry of Health is closely monitoring the advice from, and actions being taken by, the World Health Organization and other countries in relation to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa.

The Ministry has recently provided up-to-date clinical information on Ebola to district health boards and other health services.

Advice to the public and health professionals is available on the Ministry's website.

Up-to-date information for travellers is also available on the Safe Travel website.

The Ministry of Health advises any traveller who feels unwell after returning home to call Healthline on 0800611116 or phone their GP or hospital prior to visiting.

More information

For more information contact Peter Abernethy, Media Relations Manager, 021 366 111.

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