Ebola: Interview with Saverio Bellizzi, MSF epidemiologist in hot areas of the epidemic

25 Ago

Since about 9 months, the Ebola virus is infecting and killing in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia. In recent months, African Voices has followed the evolution of the epidemic and many were the questions we posed. Today, I had the great opportunity to speak with Saverio Bellizzi, Epidemiologist reference MSF in the most affected areas.
Here’s what he told me:

D) How many months ago it really started Ebola in West Africa and which countries are truly involved now?
R) The first official news came in February, but really the first cases were reported in Guinea between December and January to Guéckédou, in the southeast of the country. We were already in the area a week later. Then came along the border in Sierra Leone and in Liberia.

D) Know you if it is also involved in the Ivory Coast?
R) We have not had reports of this kind in Ivory Coast

D) Apart Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia, MSF is in Nigeria also?
R) Not that I know, maybe only as a medical support

D) Where does the Ebola virus?
R) The Ebola is a virus that lives without causing disease, in some bats. The bat is part of the food chain of these peoples and their meat if not cooked properly can cause the occurrence of an outbreak of the Ebola virus because replicating inside of the body.

D) I read on MSF the website that Ebola is transmitted through the bodies of dead people, so do not die with the body?
R) Often the greatest number of infections occurring during its funerals when the dead is being manipulated and touched, to such a degree people touching their eyes, mouth or nose facilitate entry of the virus in their body and it all starts. When the person dies has the highest concentration of virus, but it is very unstable outside, washing your hands well would be enough to to kill him. Or for example the virus is very sensitive to sunlight so if exposed dies.

D) The number of victims bounce according to who the report, you have a real estimate of how many there are? And for those who may still be?
R) We abide to official estimates. Then surely death toll could be higher as there can be infected and dead in remote villages which have now buried the dead, so it is difficult to determine how many there are and then make sure that they are really dead Ebola or malaria, for example.

D) From Ebola is possible to heal?
R) By Ebola is possible to heal depends on many factors; the patient’s age, state of its antibodies and the severity of the disease in the course on the patient. Also important is the time between onset of symptoms and taking care of the patient.

D) The international media have begun to take an interest Ebola only after some Westerners are sick, do you think that a better information can also help your work?
R) In truth, the national media were interested in February when it was officially announced the presence of Ebola in Guinea and then the interest was over. They came back to talk about it in May and then again dying, now between June and July, with the death of some Western interest was on again. Actually yes, if there was a continuing and correct it would be a great help for us to MSF, the people would be better informed and more might participate the fight against the virus with their donations which as you know, MSF remains exclusively on this one.

D) The vaccine that are talking Americans and Canadians really exists and is effective? If it is, because it does not produce it in sufficient quantity for the number of patients in Africa?
R) Hard to say. Experimentation to date has only been tested on primates with promising results, but not in humans. It ‘s still too early to talk about the vaccine and therapy which for now does not exist.

D) Every day the newspapers report suspected cases of Ebola in Europe; the priest in Spain, then there was talk of suspected cases in Ireland, Berlin, Lithuania would put in place a airport emergency plan; is the real possibility that Ebola can come in Europe?
R) Here we must make a distinction. The Ebola in Europe never came. The Spanish priest who later died, has contracted Ebola in Africa and was transported to Spain with a special plane. Must also distinguish the cases of patients with malaria who may have arrived in Europe, since the symptoms can be almost similar to those of Ebola.
I also want to say that all passengers departing from airports in Africa involved in the epidemic are thoroughly checked, I myself have suffered the check before boarding to return to Italy.

D) MSF said it will take six months to curb the epidemic; you believe that are real time or underestimated?
R) We’re talking about six months because the state of the epidemic at this time is out of control. Of course, if within a month the state of things will not have had a radical change and therefore will still be out of control, will be discussed further 6 months.

D) These days we are talking about suspicious deaths in Boende area in DR Congo, near the Ebola River, where in 1976 the virus was discovered. MSF has information about it?
R) Frankly no. Let us recall once again that other diseases have similar symptoms to Ebola. In any case a team is in place to make the diagnosis of what is happening now in Congo.

D) In Africa, MSF is present in many countries with high numbers of people treated; what you need to keep the best of your work?
R) Yes we are present in many African countries in different contexts; to continue al best we have need help in terms of human resources and donations in order to support our work with the quality that distinguishes us.

D) You and people like you who work with Ebola, are not afraid?
R) Fear is a small part of our work. There is at the beginning when you have no knowledge of the area and mode but then you come into your work pace and you feel in harmony with what you’re doing to the point that the fear vanishes and indeed when you’re away from your work as it is now that I’m in Italy for a few days, I can not wait to return and resume my work.

D) Finally, Saverio?
R) I desire to remind again that the infection with Ebola happens by contact of body fluids of a symptomatic patient: a person with Ebola in step d incubation and that it has no symptoms and is not a person contaminant.

Thanks.

Marco Pugliese
African Voices

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