Infectious Disease Expert Appointed

By Petrina Smith
Monday, 27 October, 2014

The Federal Government has appointed the University of Sydney's Professor Lyn Gilbert to advise on the prevention and control of infectious diseases, in the event of an Ebola outbreak.

Professor Gilbert was specifically appointed to chair the new expert committee which advises the Australian Health Protection Prime committee, comprised of state and territory chief health officers and the Communicable Disease Network, Australia.  She is an infectious disease physician and clinical microbiologist, and also the Director of Infection Prevention and Control at Westmead Hospital and senior investigator with the Marie Bashir Institute for Emerging Infections and Biosecurity Institute at the University of Sydney.

Her role will include the management of Ebola cases in the event of their entry to Australia, their clinical assessment and care, contact tracing and the use of protective equipment used by healthcare workers.

In Australia, the threat of Ebola comes from two sources: inbound travelers from Ebola-affected nations, and Australian healthcare workers returning from the frontlines of the epidemic in West Africa. Each week in Australia between 15-30 people are arrive from Ebola-affected countries such as Sierra Leone.

To date, up to 50 emergency and intensive care staff at Westmead Hospital in Sydney - the only treatment facility for any cases in New South Wales - have taken part in training in the proper use of personal protective gear.

Professor Gilbert said that the disease, which causes severe fever, muscle pain, vomiting, diarrhoea, and organ failure and severe bleeding in some cases, currently has no vaccine or cure.

"The only way to stop it is to break the chains of infection," she said.

While the official number of people who are  sick with Ebola is unknown, almost ten thousand cases, including forty-eight hundred deaths, have been reported. The vast majority of these have occurred in Western African nations. Only 18 cases have been reported outside Western Africa, and these were in the US and Europe.

Australia's Chief Medical Officer Professor Chris Baggoley said a variety of Ebola defense strategies were under consideration. Professor Baggoley told the ABC that after the arrivals were screened, it was important they knew the right places to go for help if they started displaying Ebola symptoms.

"We're keen to make sure there are mechanisms to make sure they go to designated hospitals wherever possible," Professor Baggoley said.

The Australian Government is still refusing to send health workers to Africa, despite the US and the UK's requests to do so.



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