Ebola unlikely to spread to Japan: health ministry

JIJI

The Ebola outbreak that has killed more than 1,000 people in West Africa recently is unlikely to spread to Japan, health ministry officials say.

Although the probability is deemed low, Japan is making preparations at international airports and other entry points to deal with the possible arrival of Ebola-infected people, the officials also say.

“This is not an unknown disease and we have a system for dealing with it, so the disease is unlikely to spread (in Japan) even if an infected person appears,” a health bureaucrat said. “In developed countries, fatality rates are said to be around 20 percent.”

Japan has no direct flights to or from the Ebola-hit countries of Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia. Since the number of Japanese who visit the three countries is low, the risk of Ebola entering Japan is considered low. Ebola-hit Nigeria was not mentioned.

There is no cure for Ebola. The world’s first case was reported in 1976, according to the ministry. The virus is not spread by airborne means, and infections occur mainly through physical contact with bodily fluids. Symptoms include fever, headache and hemorrhaging. Some 50 to 90 percent of those infected with Ebola die.

With no proven drugs or vaccines for the disease, symptomatic therapy, such as rehydration, is the only way to treat patients. Ebola outbreaks were thought to be limited to Central Africa, and the current one is the first in West Africa.

In Japan, Ebola is categorized as a Class I infectious disease, which requires compulsory quarantine. Other mandatory measures for those infected have been set out by law.

If symptoms of Ebola are confirmed via blood tests, the infected will be sent to one of 47 special medical institutions across the nation designated for handling dangerous infectious diseases. People who have been in close contact with patients will also be examined so further infections can be prevented.

No Ebola outbreaks lethal to humans have happened outside Africa. There have been no confirmed cases of Ebola in Japan, the officials said.

One or two suspected cases are reported annually, but none have been confirmed positive to date, the officials said.

Just in case, the ministry has instructed quarantine authorities to identify flights connecting with those directly from the three countries and to be prepared.

At airports, the body temperatures of people entering Japan are being checked with thermographic cameras. Travelers who have recently been to Ebola-hit countries are being asked to report that voluntarily and to see doctors if necessary.

No infections or suspected cases have been discovered yet, ministry officials said.