Outbreak Information June 2014

SomaliaPolio CaribbeanChikungunya virus CorsicaSchistosomiasis Middle EastMiddle East respiratory syndrome (MERS), Meningococcal B, Sierra Leone /Guinea/ LiberiaEbola Virus

Somalia – Polio

According to the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, 194 polio cases were reported in Somalia in 2013 (the first since 2007). Polio vaccination is recommended for Somalia and those working with locals in neighbouring countries due to the risk of cross-border transmission. Polio remains endemic in three countries – Afghanistan, Nigeria and Pakistan. Until vaccination can rid wild poliovirus in these countries, all countries are at risk of people importing polio, especially from countries within Western Africa and the Horn of Africa. Polio is a highly infective viral infection mainly spread between people by eating or drinking faecally contaminated products. Polio can also be spread through water, drinks or via raw or undercooked foods. Surprisingly most people initially don’t feel too sick. It was a much feared disease until the mid-1950s for it often used to leave people weakened, paralysed or unable to breathe.

Caribbean – Chikungunya Virus

The WHO reported the presence of Chikungunya virus on the Caribbean island of Saint Martin in December 2013. This is the first time Chikungunya has been reported among local mosquitoes in the Americas that has then infected locals. Local transmission has also been reported in another seventeen Caribbean Islands including, Puerto Rico and other tourist destinations, Antigua, Dominican Republic and Haiti. Chikungunya is a viral illness spread by mosquitoes that bite both day and night, even in urban areas. It is also commonly found in Asia, Africa and in the Pacific region. It is similar to Dengue Fever and may cause fever, joint pains, swelling, headaches and rash. There is currently no vaccine or medicine to prevent infection; only mosquito avoidance measures.

Corsica – Schistosomiasis

The European Centre for Disease Control reported that six people were infected with schistosomiasis at the Cavu River on the French Mediterranean island of Corsica.  As no medication or vaccines prevent parasitic schistosomiasis, avoiding skin contact with freshwater sources such as lakes or rivers is advised. Swimming in the ocean or in chlorinated pools is a better option to avoid this worm infection.

Middle East – Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS)

By May 30th 2014 the World Health Organisation (WHO) had reported 636 laboratory-confirmed cases and 193 deaths by a viral infection called Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS). The number of affected countries has increased rapidly with newly imported cases in the USA, Netherlands, Turkey, Malaysia, Philippines and Egypt; but no Australian cases as yet. All cases share in common a history of residence in or travel to the Middle East, or contact with travellers returning from these areas. Thus far camels are thought to be the primary source of human infection but human-to-human spread has somehow occurred. The WHO is monitoring this but has not declared it a public health emergency. The MERS virus is new and unrelated to the SARS virus. It often presents with lower chest symptoms amongst all age groups. Australian travellers to the Middle East should avoid all unnecessary contact with camels and their secretions and remember to wash hands thoroughly and practice good hand hygiene.

Meningococcal B Vaccine

Earlier this year BEXSERO was the first effective Meningococcal B vaccine to be launched in Australia. It is recommended for use in adults and infants from two months of age to protect against Meningococcal serogroup B bacterial meningitis. Type B is one of the five major Meningococcal strains; the other four have effective vaccines. In Europe, USA, Canada and Australia, most remaining meningitis cases are due to type B, especially since the type C strain has reduced markedly after vaccination programs over the last decade. It is most beneficial to infants, teenagers and students studying abroad in residential colleges and adults with a weakened immune system or without a spleen.

Ebola Virus

Ebola is a rare, deadly viral disease native to several African countries. It is spread by direct contact with a sick person’s blood or body fluids or by contact with contaminated objects, bushmeat or infected animals. Symptoms include fever, rash, headache, muscle aches, weakness, gastro symptoms, and both internal and external bleeding especially in gums and eyes. No vaccine or specific treatments exist but luckily travellers have been lower risk with past outbreak locations. However travellers should avoid contact with the blood and body fluids of infected people and avoid animal contact in these countries. Relatives, health workers and animal handlers are at greatest risk. These higher risk groups should be even more careful and wear protective clothing, including masks, gloves, gowns, and eye protection, and strict hand washing guidelines. Confirmed recent outbreaks and deaths have occurred in eastern Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia.


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