Red Cross Volunteer poses no harm to Northlanders

Northlanders are being reassured that a local midwife and nurse who recently returned from volunteering at the scene of Ebola is not contagious.

Northland DHB medical officer of health Clair Mills says that, after fielding calls from concerned members of the public, it appears people have been misinformed.

“Donna’s a great example of a caring, humanitarian worker. All the correct steps were taken to ensure Donna poses no risk to anyone in Northland.” 

Ms Collins, a midwife and women’s health nurse at Whangarei Hospital, was one of a large team of international nurses and humanitarians aid specialists sent by New Zealand Red Cross to work for the International Federation of Red Cross at a purpose-built Ebola treatment centre near Kenema, Sierra Leone’s third biggest city.

She was one of only two Kiwis in the team responsible for setting up and operating The Red Cross Ebola Treatment Centre on land the size of two football fields, shaved out of jungle in a matter of weeks.

When the Kiwi nurses arrived, the death rate was about 70 per cent, now down to about 55 per cent. The nurses had signed up for three weeks but asked for an extension because "we still had a job to do". 

Returning home, Ms Collins underwent 21 days of daily health monitoring - longer than World Health Organisation and Ministry of Health recommendations - before returning to work. 

The Ministry of Health assessment is that the risk to New Zealand from Ebola remains low, and health and border authorities are well prepared.

Fact Box: 
  • Ebola is not easy to catch; it is not spread through the air, it's not as infectious as the flu or measles.  Infection requires direct contact with infected body fluids such as blood. People with Ebola are not infectious until they are displaying symptoms. 
  • Border screening is already in place for individuals arriving from West African countries affected by the Ebola outbreak.  These controls are similar to those in place in comparable countries.
  • Anyone arriving in New Zealand who, in the last month, has visited West African countries affected by the Ebola outbreak is screened for symptoms of the disease and where necessary given a health assessment by a Public Health Officer.  
  • Since screening was introduced early in August, 58 people have been screened but none have been of concern. 
  • In the very unlikely event that there was a case of Ebola in New Zealand, it is expected that it would be an isolated case. 
  • Existing isolation facilities and infection control protocols in New Zealand hospitals are suitable for treating a suspected or confirmed case of Ebola. Given the serious nature of the disease, samples would be sent to a high-security reference laboratory overseas for testing. 
  • The Ministry of Health advises any traveller who feels unwell after returning home to call their GP, nurse or Healthline on 0800611116 and say where you have been travelling. 
  • The incubation period for Ebola is most commonly 8-10 days, but can be as little as two. 
  • The longest incubation period reported is 21 days. The two Red Cross nurses who recently returned from supporting the international Ebola response in Sierra Leone have been well and are now past the 21-day monitoring period.  
  • It is important to note that a person with Ebola is not infectious until they have developed symptoms. 
  • The Ministry has developed a protocol for people returning to New Zealand after assisting with the international Ebola response. This includes a 21 day self-monitoring period, starting from the date of departure from the Ebola-affected country. 

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