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Handling possible cases of highly-contagious serious disease

Infectious diseases ward

Unfortunately, it is a common reflex among health personnel to put on full protective gear when receiving a patient who has recently arrived from a region where a highly infectious and serious disease is known to occur, especially after the 2014/2015 Ebola outbreak.

A good health care worker overcomes this reflex and asks about symptoms, the country of origin/travel (NB! there might be reasons to give false information) and especially the time interval between the departure from countries endemic for highly contagious diseases and the arrival in the non-endemic country. Most highly-contagious serious diseases have a short incubation period of days to a few weeks, whereas many refugees are on the journey for months or even years. Also, many communicable diseases are not transmissible from human to human. Knowing your world map as well as endemicities, modes of transmission and incubation periods will help to distinguish between the rare moments where you need to be cautious and the many moments when you can make a difference by treating the patient like a human being and not a suspected disease carrier under general suspicion.

Also read this information from the European parliament briefing, January 2016: The public health dimension of the European migrant crisis.

Migrants and the threat of infectious diseases: demystifying perceptions

Reacting to reported claims by some politicians that migrants could bring ‘possible epidemics’ into the EU, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the EU have taken a clear stance: the risk of an outbreak of infectious diseases resulting from the current influx of migrant populations is extremely low. Migrants do not pose a greater threat to public health than international travellers. Zsuzsanna Jakab, WHO Regional Director for Europe, underlined that ‘despite a common perception that there is an association between migration and the importation of infectious diseases, there is no systematic association. Communicable diseases are primarily associated with poverty. Refugees and migrants are exposed mainly to the infectious diseases that are common in Europe, independently of migration.’

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