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VirusThe Ebola outbreak in West Africa, which has caused 4,493 reported deaths so far, is posing a serious threat to the rest of the world, including Pakistan, due to the frequent movement of people from the affected countries to other parts of the world.

Although its host is unidentified, animals, including bats and apes, are believed to be the prime carriers of the virus. Therefore, contact with such animals or with people who have been infected (through contact with broken skin or bodily fluids, including blood, urine, saliva and sweat) are the two ways in which the virus can be transmitted. The disease is difficult, if not impossible, to cure, which is why wearing protective gear and disposing of used syringes properly is mandatory when treating Ebola patients.

People at maximum risk of contracting the virus include healthcare professionals and families and friends of patients. Symptoms can surface anywhere between two and 21 days after contracting the disease and include abdominal and muscular pain, fever, vomiting and diarrhoea.

Although the Ebola threat has not reached Pakistan yet, the local healthcare scenario does not present a rosy picture. We continue to battle the Naeglaria fowleri – commonly referred to as the brain-eating amoeba – a water-borne virus. Usually found in fresh water, it is transmitted when the virus containing water enters the nostrils causing Primary Amoebic Meningoencephalitis (PAM), an incurable disease that affects the central nervous system; to date, the death toll due to PAM in 2014 in Pakistan is 12. Adequate chlorination of water supplies is the only preventive measure to counter its spread.

Our problems do not end there. According to the WHO, dengue is making a comeback, with several cases reported already, while the resurgence of the polio virus earlier this year almost led to Pakistan being quarantined.

There is an urgent need to raise awareness about these deadly, yet easily preventable diseases, and take the necessary precautionary measures to ensure that these outbreaks do not consume any more lives.

Dr Summaiya Syed-Tariq
The writer is a senior forensic practitioner working at the Police Surgeon’s Office, Karachi.

First published in the Health Advertiser Section of The DAWN National Weekend Advertiser on November 9, 2014.