Frankfurt authorities prepare for Ebola – Is it about to get bad?


Are we ready for Ebola? It's a question the German media have been asking for weeks. Frankfurt Airport has come under particular scrutiny due to its size. But could Frankfurt really be an entry point for the disease?

Are we ready for Ebola? It’s a question the German media have been asking for weeks. Frankfurt Airport has come under particular scrutiny due to its size. But could Frankfurt really be an entry point for the disease?

Some of the taxi drivers at Frankfurt Airport feel helpless against the disease

Some of the taxi drivers at Frankfurt Airport feel helpless against the disease

Ebola continues to rage in Africa. So far, the virus has claimed more than 1,500 lives in the West African countries of Liberia, Guinea, Sierra Leone and Nigeria. But the deadly disease has stirred fears on the European continent as well, triggering a string of false alarms. With several airlines including British Airways and Air France cancelling flights to affected countries, European airports have been on the alert for weeks. As Germany’s biggest airport, Frankfurt has come under particular scrutiny. Over 58 million passengers pass through its sliding glass doors and terminals every year. The taxi drivers outside the airport’s international arrivals terminal are concerned that one of those passengers could be carrying the Ebola virus. “I often have a bad feeling about it,” one of them comments. “Every time I leave the airport here with passengers I always say: ‘May I ask where you’ve just come from?’ And then I can usually make up my own mind.” He says he has even considered wearing mouth protection. Two others say they have a duty to take people to where they need to go, and they don’t ask where people have just come from. “What can you do? That’s the way it is. We have to keep working,” says one, and takes a drag from his cigarette.

Emergency medical care

The taxi drivers have to depend on airport safety measures and on passengers from affected countries making sure they get checked for Ebola. But according to Bonn-based

René Gottschalk's team at the health authority meet daily to discuss Ebola measures

René Gottschalk’s team at the health authority meet daily to discuss Ebola measures

journalist Abu-Bakarr Jalloh, that is easier said than done. Jalloh recently returned from Freetown in Sierra Leone, where he had been in close contact with Ebola patients on a reporting assignment. He was feeling unwell and tried desperately to get a blood test to confirm he was Ebola-free. He was shocked by the response of medical staff.

“You go to the emergency clinic and you would sit there for hours and hours and tell them ‘Hey my case could be very serious, take it seriously.'” Even when he explained that he could be a carrier of the virus, he was told that emergency patients are the priority. “As long as you don’t look like you’re dying, you’re not a priority,” Jalloh said. Jalloh says the response he got to his case in Germany has made him think that “the measures that authorities in Europe and airliners are taking aren’t sufficient.”

Staff at the regional health authority in Frankfurt would surely disagree . Chief public health consultant René Gottschalk estimates that employees there have been spending around 30 percent of their time dealing with Ebola-related issues in recent weeks. Every day, Gottschalk and his team meet in the so-called “Ebola crisis management room” to prepare for a potential Ebola case. The team includes infectious disease specialists and a crisis management expert who liaises with the police and the fire brigade. The walls in the room are plastered with maps, health warnings and lists of emergency contacts, flight numbers and airports in Africa.

Of course, a large chunk of the Ebola-related work at the health authority currently consists of press requests regarding Frankfurt airport’s precautions. His team has been so overwhelmed that it has gone from answering individual requests to arranging larger-scale events for journalists. Gottschalk thinks that reporting on the disease hasn’t amounted to scare-mongering, but that the amount of reports has stoked fears. “People read, see and hear more than twice a day that Ebola is a problem in Germany. But it isn’t a problem.”

Red, yellow and green

Isolation ward 68 at Frankfurt's university hospital is prepared for Ebola patients

Isolation ward 68 at Frankfurt’s university hospital is prepared for Ebola patients

Gottschalk explains that there’s a clear procedure for the event that a passenger suspected of having Ebola comes to Frankfurt airport: The flight would land outside the airport grounds. Passengers on board would then be classified according to how likely they are to be carrying the virus, using a traffic light color-coding system.

“If a passenger is marked red, we will transport him directly from the aircraft to the university hospital. Passengers marked yellow will enter the airport in a specialized area. Only passengers marked green will enter the airport and travel on,” Gottschalk explains. The same marking procedure is used for other viral hemorrhagic fevers, such as Lassa fever, which are transmitted from person to person through bodily fluids rather than through the air. There was a suspected case of Ebola on a flight from Addis Ababa to Frankfurt on August 15, 2014. But the passenger had tested negative for Ebola before flying and was allowed to travel on after being examined on the plane. An elderly couple who had been on the same flight told DW they felt “the airport staff did a good job. We felt safe and had the feeling that they knew what they were doing.”

Isolating the virus

But if there were to be a case of the virus at the airport, an infected passenger would be taken directly to Frankfurt’s university hospital, for treatment in isolation ward 68. The two-bed ward there is sealed off from the rest of the hospital, using airlock doors and negative pressure in the room. Before entering, medical staff would put on sterile protective clothing, including an orange plastic overall, two pairs of gloves, rubber boots and head covering. A built-in hose blows filtered air into the hat and into the entire gown. That way, if the suit ripped, air would blow any potential bacteria out of the suit.

.Not a European battle

Timo Wolf, a consultant in infectious diseases who runs the ward, explains that doctors at the hospital train in the isolation ward every three months. Wolf says working in the gear is “very physically straining,” so staff need to

Staff in the isolation ward wear full-body protective gear

Staff in the isolation ward wear full-body protective gear

practice performing medical procedures in the full-body suits, which he says feel like hot, heavy, scuba-diving suits.

Such preparations are very necessary, Wolf believes. “I think it’s possible, if not likely, that in the next couple of weeks, we will be confronted with a suspected or maybe even a definite case of Ebola.” Frankfurt’s system is tried and tested, Wolf says. The ward has treated Lassa fever and had a SARS patient in 2003.

“I think that there’s no reason to be afraid of anything now in Europe. I think that in the long run, this game has to be won in Western Africa,” Wolf says

Ebola: Briton Tests Positive In Sierra Leone


The outbreak of ebola has led to 2,615 confirmed cases, latest figures show

The outbreak of ebola has led to 2,615 confirmed cases, latest figures show

Medical staff are working to halt the spread of the virus in Sierra Leone

Medical staff are working to halt the spread of the virus in Sierra Leone

A Briton living in Sierra Leone has tested positive for the deadly ebola virus. Medical experts are assessing the unidentified patient “to ensure that appropriate care is delivered”, the Department of Health said. It is the first confirmed case of a British person catching the tropical infection, which kills up to 90% of people who contract it.

“There are not enough resources being put into stopping the spread of ebola,” she said. “If someone dies the body can be sitting there for up to eight days and in that time the disease can spread further. “There is not enough knowledge about the virus and people are scared to report it. “They see ebola as a death sentence, that if the family is going to die they would rather they die at home. They do not realise that if they get treatment their chance of survival is greatly increased.” Earlier this month British Airways suspended flights to Sierra Leone, along with Liberia, for weeks over fears about the outbreak. The Foreign Office has advised Britons to “carefully assess” whether they really need to travel to Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea. Since the current outbreak began earlier this year, there have been 2,615 confirmed cases and 1,427 deaths, according to the latest figures from the World Health Organisation.

Medical charity Medicine Sans Frontieres has warned infections are spreading faster than authorities could handle and that it could take six months to bring the crisis under control.Ebola is spread by contact with an infected person’s bodily fluids, such as sweat and blood, and no cure or vaccine is currently available. Professor John Watson, Britain’s deputy chief medical officer for England, insisted the risk to the public remained “very low”. It was announced on Friday that an Irishman being treated for malaria two weeks after returning from Sierra Leone, who was found dead in Co Donegal on Thursday, tested negative for ebola. Blood tests were conducted on Civil engineer Dessie Quinn, 43, following a post-mortem examination into his death amid fears he may have contracted the virus.

It could take months to bring the outbreak under control, one charity says

It could take months to bring the outbreak under control, one charity say

The patient is receiving treatment for the virus, which has killed more than 1,427 people since the start of this year’s outbreak.