The race to stop a potential health epidemic is underway in Nigeria’s largest city, as health authorities there are now rushing to stop the spread of Ebola, Associated Press is reporting. Wider screening and the re-checking of patients entering local hospitals have been stepped-up. The extraordinary measures got underway on Saturday, a day after a Liberian man died from the illness. He was sick with one of the world's deadliest diseases, and officials later learned, had brought it in by plane to Lagos.
The Nigerian city of Lagos is Africa's largest, with 21 million people.
What has put local health officials on high alert is the fact that the traveler is from Liberia. The broader picture, and what has raised new fears, is that anyone with the incurable illness could board an international flight and bring it with them anywhere. For example, other passengers could take the disease beyond Africa due to the weak health inspection of passengers’ continent wide. Also, and of particular concern to health officials continent-wide is the fact Ebola's symptoms are similar to other diseases.
Doctors, and disease experts in Nigeria’s health community are not alone on stemming what could be a major spreading and outbreak of Ebola. Officials in Togo, where the sick man's flight had a stopover, also went on high alert after learning that Ebola could possibly have spread to a fifth country.
Wider screening of people as they enter the country, health experts believe, may help slow the spread of the disease. Yet, while that may help screening on the ground at border checkpoints, those same experts say it is no guarantee Ebola won't travel by airplane. This is one of the chief concerns according to Dr. Lance Plyler, who heads Ebola medical efforts in Liberia for the aid organization Samaritan's Purse.
Yet there are challenges in detecting the disease. "Unfortunately the initial signs of Ebola imitate other diseases, like malaria or typhoid," Plyler told the Associated Press in an interview.
672 people have died so far from the Ebola virus across a wide swath of Western Africa. The 672 deaths occurred before the Nigeria case was announced this week. The nearly 700 who have died represents the deadliest outbreak on record for Ebola. Now Ebola threatens Nigeria, Africa's most populous nation.
"Lagos is completely different from other cities because we're talking about millions of people," said Dr. Unni Krishnan, who leads Plan International's Disaster Response and Preparedness unit.
Nigerian airports are now setting up holding rooms to ready in case another potential Ebola victim lands in Nigeria, a government health official said on the condition of anonymity.
Preventative measures are in place at airports in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, the other West African countries affected by the current Ebola outbreak. With other health officials looking-on across Africa at measures now being implemented by the three countries, it is now ‘wait and see’ as to how developments later move. Yet, while current measures may be a good first step, none of the safeguards are foolproof, say health experts.