The news that a nurse in Spain has become the first person to contract Ebola outside the outbreak zone in West Africa has raised concerns that it might happen in Japan.
However, the nation has a system in place that could handle potential patients safely, a senior official at the National Institute of Infectious Diseases said Tuesday.
Although Japan has not yet had to deal with an actual case of infection and therefore lacks Ebola-specific procedures to diagnose and treat it, Masayuki Saijo, head of one of the institute’s virology departments, said his team has handled suspected cases that turned out to be negative.
“The system worked, and that’s what a preventive system is about,” Saijo said.
The government, too, said there is confidence in the nation’s ability to handle cases of the deadly and highly infectious disease.
“Medical institutions, local and central governments would work closely together on a case-by-case basis, in accordance with the Infectious Diseases Control Law,” a health ministry official said Tuesday. “We have the necessary system in place for sharing information on all designated infectious diseases between involved parties.”
The virus has an incubation period of two to 21 days. Patients then develop influenza-like symptoms, such as a sudden high fever, headache, fatigue, and muscle and throat pains. These are followed by vomiting, diarrhea, chest pains and internal bleeding.
No effective treatment has been found for the disease, whose mortality rate is as high as 80 percent.
When a hospital observes Ebola-like symptoms in people, especially those who have recently visited West African countries such as Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia — the outbreak’s epicenter — officials are required to inform the local community health center, according to health ministry guidelines communicated to local governments on Aug. 7.
The information is also shared with the prefectural government and the central government, which are involved in deciding whether to test for Ebola.
Samples such as blood, saliva and urine are then sent to Saijo’s laboratory for a test, which takes about 24 hours to report a result.
An Ebola-positive patient, who Saijo said should be bedridden at that point, would already be isolated at the hospital and then, if necessary, transported to an institution equipped with a facility to isolate and treat the person properly, he said.