By Tony Edike
THE people of Enugu State were stunned by media reports on Wednesday regarding the return to the Coal City of a nurse infected by the deadly Ebola virus in Lagos.
Minister of Information, Labaran Maku, who made the startling revelation while briefing newsmen after the Federal Executive Council meeting, said the nurse was one of the primary contacts of the late American-Liberian, Patrick Sawyer. The report said that the nurse was tracked to her residence at Trans-Ekulu area of Enugu by officials of the National Centre for Disease Control, who quickly conveyed her and her husband in a special ambulance back to Lagos.
The number of days she spent in Enugu before she was bundled back to Lagos was not disclosed but information available to the Enugu State Chapter of the Nigerian Medical Association, NMA, indicated that the nurse and her husband attended a wedding somewhere at New Haven area last week and mingled with the crowd of celebrants.
The information minister had said 21 persons who had direct contact with the nurse had been placed on surveillance and 15 of them have been released after testing negative to Ebola virus. Speaking on the Ebola scare in Enugu, the State Commissioner of Health, Dr. George Eze, confirmed that the nurse and her spouse were taken back to Lagos.
The anxiety created by the report has continued to engender fear, panic and concerns among Enugu residents.
The development forced many gullible Nigerians to drink and bath with salted water, slowed down economic activities especially in the entertainment industry.
Many drinking and bush meat joints in Enugu were deserted just as popular spots like Otigba and Ogui junctions where the good-evening-girls loiter around were deserted. Many people were visibly scared of having bodily contact with anyone. Handshakes were stopped, while bus commuters devised means of traveling without any direct contact with their fellow passengers. In fact, everybody became a suspect. Some rushed to Kola nuts sellers and bought bitter kola which they believe could neutralize the virus while those who could afford hand sanitiser procured and moved around with them.
A survey conducted by Saturday Vanguard within Enugu metropolis showed that a bitter kola nut now sells for between N50 and N100 while a small bottle of hand sanitiser goes for N1,000 and above.
One of the residents, who identified herself as Mrs Ngozi Obiefuna, told Saturday Vanguard that though it was difficult to identify carriers of the Ebola virus, she and members of her family had learnt how to isolate themselves from other people including those well known to them.
She said: “The situation in town has become very worrisome because since we heard about the escape of the nurse from Lagos to Enugu, we felt nobody is safe here. We are even more worried that no one has told us where the said nurse visited during her presence in Enugu and the actual number of people that encountered her.”
The NMA Enugu State Chapter appeared more worried over lack of preparations for the state to handle the situation if the Ebola disease developed to an epidemic level in the state.
Chairman of the Association, Dr. George Ugwu, told Journalists in Enugu that his members were totally oblivious of what they are expected to do should any carrier of the virus or people with the symptoms approached them.
“Several of my colleagues have been calling to know what we are doing. Today alone, several people will have fever and fever and vomiting are common ailments. We in NMA are ready but we want to know how to protect ourselves and where they should go when identified”.
Dr Ugwu said that his association had set up an Ebola Committee headed by Dr Cajetan Onyegbula long before the primary contact visited the state, adding that the NMA was ready to work with government to stem the tide.
A civil servant who resides at New Haven with members of his family, Mr. Ebuka Ugwu, expressed fears that many people might have had direct contact with the escapee nurse at the wedding more so when people were not aware of the danger around them.
“There may be more danger than we envisage because from what we are hearing the nurse and her husband attended an all-night prayer meeting at a popular religious gathering in Enugu last week but we have not confirmed this. For now, everybody is scared,” he said.
However, the state Commissioner for Health, Dr Eze, has allayed fears being expressed by some residents that the nurse might have infected some people during the wedding she purportedly attended.
According to him, the 21 persons placed under surveillance was due to the contact they had with the lady, explaining that they would only be isolated when they begin to manifest symptoms of the virus.
He said: “You do not quarantine somebody who is moving about because it is only when you develop symptoms that you will be able to transmit the virus and that is when you have excess viral load.
“It was when she came down to Enugu, from what we got from her and the husband, that she
now started having symptoms. It was then that we were informed, we moved in swiftly and provided the wherewithal. With support from expatriates that came down from Lagos, we were able to isolate her and decontaminate the house in line with WHO standard and took her back to Lagos.
“Naturally you have to try to track down the contacts anywhere. It is those contacts that have been put under surveillance. They are in their homes and they are placed under surveillance by Centre for
Disease Control in Lagos”.
He stated that the panic being expressed over the development was unnecessary, stressing that the disease can only be transmitted by those who are manifesting the symptoms and will unlikely be walking about the streets.