The Federal Government yesterday urged Nigerians to dismiss rumours suggesting a case of the dreaded Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) had been discovered in the country.
The scare came as the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) battles to contain an outbreak threatening to get out of control while Kenya attempts to douse concerns over a woman with related symptoms.
An unnamed female had arrived at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport (MMIA), Lagos, onboard a Kenya Airways flight on Monday, with symptoms of high fever. Her temperature, detected by a standby surveillance team, immediately threw the arrival section of the airport into panic mode.
The permanent secretary, Federal Ministry of Health, Abdullaziz Mashi Abdullahi, described the rumour as false, urging people to disregard it and discourage the circulation of unverified information capable of causing harm and unnecessary anxiety.
He explained that following the report of an outbreak in the DRC, officials of the ministry's Port Health Services had intensified surveillance at entry points to prevent a spillover.
According to him, sick passengers have since then been undergoing screening. "I can say categorically that none of the patients screened tested positive for Ebola or any deadly disease," he said via a statement in Abuja yesterday
He disclosed that in line with the guidelines of the World Health Organisation (WHO), a recent preliminary risk assessment conducted by the Nigeria Ebola Preparedness team, coordinated by the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), indicated that the overall risk of EVD importation to Nigeria from the DRC and Uganda was low.
He nevertheless maintained that the ministry would not relax as government remains committed to protecting the health of Nigerians and would sustain partnership with the global health watchdog and other stakeholders.
Similarly, the Director General of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) Dr. Chikwe Ihekweazu told The Guardian yesterday that the country is more prepared to confront any outbreak than it was in 2014 when Nigeria's first case was confirmed.
Airport Manager Victoria Shin-Aba confirmed the incident. "But I can tell you that it was just a scare, given the situation in Congo and Uganda. We have been told that she tested negative to Ebola and has been allowed to go. There is no cause for alarm; we are on ground," she said.
Outlining "facts" of the matter, a widely circulated WhatsApp post by Ahmad Sa'eid, National Chairman (Aviation Health) of the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA) insisted: "There is no Ebola in Lagos."
It stated: "An adult female arrived in Nigeria from DR Congo yesterday through the MMA for a church programme in Nigeria. She was acutely ill, febrile and had episodes of vomiting. Her travel history made her a contact suspect for Ebola, and she was promptly isolated. Lagos State Ambulance Services (LASAMBUS) was deployed and she was promptly transferred to the Infectious Diseases Hospital (IDH), Lagos, were she was resuscitated, and samples taken/sent for Ebola virology.
"The result came out this p.m., and is negative for Ebola. The subject is well now, and has been discharged from hospital. Active state of alert and surveillance however continue.
"We are requested to please help stop the spread of this Ebola news scare, by providing the facts and promptly dispelling sensational rumours. Mass hysteria is the last thing Nigerians deserve at this, or any other moment."
EVD, also known as Ebola Hemorrhagic Fever (EHF), is caused through an infection by one of the five known Ebola virus species, four of which can trigger the disease in humans.
The virus can be transmitted via direct contact with the body fluids of a sick person or a dead patient. It enters the body through broken skin or mucous membranes in the eyes, nose or mouth.
To prevent spread, the NCDC advised members of the public to: wash their hands frequently using soap and water (use hand sanitisers when soap and water is not readily available); avoid direct handling of dead wild animals, avoid physical contact with anyone who has possible symptoms of an infection with an unknown diagnosis; and make sure fruit and vegetables are properly washed and peeled before they are eaten.
The agency also urged healthcare workers to practise universal precaution at all times. This includes the use of personal protective equipment when handling patients.