Q&A with Ebola expert: Israel 'well equipped' to deal with disease

Israeli doctor tells "Post" though there's no guarantee against Ebola entering country, response would be swift: "no cause for public alarm."

Ebola screening drill held at Ben-Gurion Airport, October 17, 2014. (photo credit: KOBI GIDEON/GPO)
Ebola screening drill held at Ben-Gurion Airport, October 17, 2014.
(photo credit: KOBI GIDEON/GPO)
According to recent World Health Organization figures, more than 10,000 people have been infected by Ebola as the outbreak continues to spread. Of those cases, more than 4,900 people have died. While the Ebola epidemic in West Africa is reportedly the worst outbreak on record, and has also caused alarm in Spain and the US, Dr. Roee Singer, Deputy Director of the Division of Epidemiology at the Ministry of Health, says Israel is well equipped to deal with the disease.
Dr. Singer spoke to The Jerusalem Post Premium Zone this week to provide insight into what people need to know about what he describes as a "dramatic infection."
How does Ebola spread and who is at risk?
In principle, Ebola is spread by contact. As opposed to influenza which is spread by the air, Ebola requires close contact with body fluids. It's not the situation we have with the flu where millions of people get infected.
Ebola is spread by bodily fluids, vomit and feces of infected patients.
Health care workers who deal with these patients are more at risk and it's less of an issue for layman bystanders or even plane or bus passengers. If someone with the flu sneezes on a bus, he is liable to infect several people around him. That is not the case with Ebola.
US authorities and the public are on alert following recent diagnoses of Ebola in the country, raising concerns that the worst Ebola epidemic on record could spread from West Africa. Should there be cause for public alarm here in Israel?
No I don't think there is cause for public alarm nor do I think there is cause for public alarm in America. The public level of panic is not justified. My message to you is one of cool, calm and collected. It is no doubt a horrible outbreak in Africa. There is the potential of exportation to any country in the world and we have seen that in Europe and the United States but we in Israel feel that we are well equipped to deal with this.
I cannot guarantee that no one will land at Ben Gurion Airport or cross the land border with Ebola. However, I can certainly vouch to the fact that should such a patient arrive in this country the response will be swift, comprehensive and transmission will be truncated very early on.
I can't guarantee we won't see a case or a few cases here but I firmly believe that will be the end of it.
How would someone know if they contracted the disease?
There are three countries considered at risk, where there is active transmission of Ebola. These are West Africa's Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea.
In Israel just 300 people from these countries come to Israel per year. It's a small number of potential travelers carrying the disease and we are prepared if someone does enter the country with the infection.
There is now airport screening for people coming from those countries. It consists of a questionnaire and temperature measure, and people who are negative on these two measures are asked to notify Israeli public health services if they develop potential Ebola symptoms including fever.
Patients who have come from these West African countries who have a fever or any other potentially indicative symptoms are whisked off to an Ebola treatment center at the Rambam Hospital in Haifa and the Sheba Medical Center outside Tel Aviv.
How would Ebola be transmitted on an airplane?
It is possible to transmit but unlikely, particularly because all the Ebola affected countries are now required to perform exit screening. And Israel is doing entry screening. Ebola patients are only infective when they have symptoms so the chance of a patient slipping by the exit screening in Africa, getting on a plane, getting sick on a plane is very slim considering Israel receives only 300 visitors from these countries per year. It's not impossible but very low probability.
How is Ebola treated?
There are two issues here. One is the issue of patient treatment and the other is isolation. We have two goals in treating an Ebola patient. The first goal is to offer the best possible care because Ebola in Africa has about a 50 percent mortality rate. One in every two patients dies. There is no specific treatment for Ebola so we have supportive treatment. We watch the patient's hydration state and salt levels in his blood, and treat him appropriately, we replace lost fluids and keep him/her alive until the body deals with the disease by itself.
That can be done in any hospital. What is unique to the designated Ebola treatment centers in Israel is that they have very high levels of isolation.
Almost 10 percent of patients in Africa are health care workers and health care providers are also Israeli civilians. So having a health care worker infected by a patient would be a calamity. We are prepared for this but even so we want to avoid health care workers getting infected therefore these designated centers have the highest available level of patient isolation and health care worker personal protective equipment that is available.