The virus travels: Karachi receives its first suspected Ebola patient from Liberia

Blood samples have been sent to Germany, results to arrive in three days

Noman Ahmed December 01, 2014

KARACHI: Less than an hour after landing at Jinnah International Airport on Monday morning, 47-year-old Muhammad Haroon was rushed to the hospital. The airport’s health officials were certain he had the Ebola virus.

Haroon arrived in Karachi at 6:25am via Qatar Airways from Monrovia - the capital of Liberia, one of the West African countries hit hardest by the outbreak of the Ebola haemorrhagic fever. Sources claimed that Haroon, who works as a sales person for an electric generator store, had a fever when he landed.

“Due to his alleged fever and travel history, the man [Haroon] was identified as a suspected Ebola patient,” said Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Centre’s (JPMC) Dr Seemin Jamali. “He was brought here immediately. His blood samples will be sent abroad through the National Institute of Health (NIH) in Islamabad. We will find out the results in the next 48 to 72 hours.” She added that he will be kept in isolation till further notice.

While talking to The Express Tribune, Dr Jaleel Kamran, the officer in-charge at NIH’s epidemic investigation cell in Islamabad said that the blood samples will be sent to a laboratory in Hamburg, Germany.

“We do not have the facilities to carry out tests for Ebola in Pakistan for a quick confirmation,” said Dr Kamran. “All the samples of suspected Ebola cases are to be sent abroad to specialised laboratories.”

As it happened

Around 7:30am, the JPMC administration received a phone call from the airport health authorities who informed them that they might have a suspected Ebola case at hand.

“Upon landing in Karachi, the patient mentioned Liberia as the last port of embarkation,” said Dr Jamali. “When the health authorities took him aside and checked his temperature with a forehead strip, it was as high at 103°F.”

According to the medical duty-officer at the airport who reported the case, Dr Sharma, passengers on all flights bound to Pakistan have to fill out a form declaring countries they have recently visited and health status - this is mandatory under instructions from the Ministry of National Health Services, Regulations and Coordination.

By doing this, the ministry intends on collecting data regarding the health of passengers travelling to Pakistan from countries with an outbreak of lethal or viral infections. He added that passengers have to fill out these forms and return them to the federal health ministry’s desk before walking towards the immigration desk.

Once Dr Sharma reported Haroon as a suspected Ebola case, the airport’s health authorities took him to JPMC’s Medical ICU, which is a quarantine zone following a resolution adopted by the Sindh Assembly. In a session a few weeks ago, the assembly decided to establish isolation wards as a precautionary measure against the Ebola virus.

“The patient, however, appears to be in good health,” said Dr Jamali, after going through an examination report carried out by Dr Tasnim Ahsan, who is the JPMC’s executive director and professor of medicine. “In contrast to the temperature documented at the airport, the patient’s oral temperature was 99°F when examined at the hospital.” She added that Haroon had none of the other symptoms associated with the virus, such as body aches, cough, flu, nausea or diarrhoea - he did, however, complain of tiredness as he had been travelling for nearly two days.

Scare in Faisalabad

Haroon is the second suspected Ebola case in the country so far. Last week, Zulfiqar Ahmed, 40, from Chiniot was taken to the hospital in critical condition and was kept under isolation as doctors feared that he had contracted the virus during his visit to the Togolese Republic in West Africa.

Ahmed died a day after he was admitted to the hospital. His blood samples, however, showed that he did not have Ebola but died due to Hepatitis C and Dengue.

While talking to The Express Tribune, Dr Jamali said that Haroon had told his attending doctor that when he checked in at the Monrovia airport, they did check his temperature and it was normal.

Symptoms of Ebola

The Ebola virus, also known as the Ebola haemorrhagic fever is a virus transmitted to human from wild animals, usually fruit bats and can spread through close contact with blood, secretions, organs or other bodily fluids of infected animals such as chimpanzees, gorillas, fruit bats or monkeys found ill or dead in the rainforests, according to the World Health Organisation’s website.

The first outbreak occurred in 1976 in remote villages - one in Nzara, Sudan, and the other in Yambuku, Democratic Republic of Congo. The latter occurred in a village near the Ebola River, from which the disease takes its name. There are currently no licensed Ebola vaccines but two potential candidates are undergoing evaluation.

Symptoms include, fever fatigue, muscle pain, headache and sore throat - these are usually followed by vomiting, diarrhoea, rash, symptoms of impaired kidney and liver function, and in some cases, both internal and external bleeding.

Published in The Express Tribune, December 2nd, 2014.


Muhammad Javed | 7 years ago | Reply

2 December 2014

Last month my wife was to travel abroad. We did not remember to get the Polio international certificate which I had read in newspapers was compulsory. It was only the night when next evening my wife was to travel. I advised her to early morning find from where this Certificate is obtained preferably. If she fails to get I advised her at the airport she would be enquired about it and she would be given polio drops and issued a certificate. I advised her not to refuse these drops on the ground that she was an adult. She told me later at the Karachi Airport no one asked her any certificates or not any drops and she walked in routine.

Vaqar | 7 years ago | Reply @Baba: It is quite a silly logic really, especially if they are Pakistani Nationals returning home. Do remember Pakistan is one of the few countries with Polio epidemic. Concentrate on the problem at hand and fear the day that other countries ban Pakistan for being a potential source of Polio.
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