Having previously warned of "an unimaginable tragedy," Peter Piot, one of the scientists who discovered Ebola, has warned that China is under threat from the deadly virus because of the huge number of Chinese workers in Africa. While offering a silver(ish) lining that the pandemic will be over in 6-12 months, Piot stresses "it will get worse before it gets better," and the director of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine explained that he "assumes that an outbreak of Ebola in China will happen."
One of the scientists who discovered Ebola has warned that China is under threat from the deadly virus because of the huge number of Chinese workers in Africa.
Professor Peter Piot also made the grim prediction that Ebola would claim thousands more lives in the months ahead.
"It will get worse for a while, and then hopefully it will get better when people are isolated," said Piot, who is in Hong Kong for a two-day symposium. "What we see now is every 30 days there is a doubling of new infections."
He estimated the epidemic would last another six to 12 months.
"In Africa, there are many Chinese working there. So that could be a risk for China in general, and I assume that one day [an outbreak of Ebola in China] will happen," said Piot, director of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.
He also said that infection control measures at mainland hospitals were not always "up to standard", which put public health at great risk.
Piot stressed the importance of training people to spot at-risk air passengers before they boarded. And he said voluntary surveillance measures at Chek Lap Kok airport in Hong Kong were not effective enough. "Widespread screening [of arrivals] in airports is not that effective, to be honest … the most cost-effective method is to screen people before they take the plane."
A patient feared to have Ebola in Hong Kong tested negative in a preliminary test yesterday. The 39-year-old man, who had been in Nigeria from October 13 to 20, went to Prince of Wales Hospital before being transferred to the Infectious Disease Centre at Princess Margaret Hospital.
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Do you think we might be facing the beginnings of a pandemic?
There will certainly be Ebola patients from Africa who come to us in the hopes of receiving treatment. And they might even infect a few people here who may then die. But an outbreak in Europe or North America would quickly be brought under control. I am more worried about the many people from India who work in trade or industry in west Africa. It would only take one of them to become infected, travel to India to visit relatives during the virus's incubation period, and then, once he becomes sick, go to a public hospital there. Doctors and nurses in India, too, often don't wear protective gloves. They would immediately become infected and spread the virus.
The virus is continually changing its genetic makeup. The more people who become infected, the greater the chance becomes that it will mutate ...
... which might speed its spread. Yes, that really is the apocalyptic scenario. Humans are actually just an accidental host for the virus, and not a good one. From the perspective of a virus, it isn't desirable for its host, within which the pathogen hopes to multiply, to die so quickly. It would be much better for the virus to allow us to stay alive longer.
Could the virus suddenly change itself such that it could be spread through the air?
Like measles, you mean? Luckily that is extremely unlikely. But a mutation that would allow Ebola patients to live a couple of weeks longer is certainly possible and would be advantageous for the virus. But that would allow Ebola patients to infect many, many more people than is currently the case.