Ebola cases in Europe ‘unavoidable’

Published: Wednesday 8th October 2014 by The News Editor

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Sporadic cases of Ebola in Europe are “unavoidable” but the risk of the disease spreading is extremely low, the World Health Organisation has said.

Accidental contamination of people exposed to the killer virus through the west African outbreak that has killed more than 3,500 people can be mitigated by strict infection control measures, Zsuzsanna Jakab, WHO regional director for Europe said.

Her statement came as authorities in Spain deal with the first case of the disease transmitted outside west Africa, in a hospital nurse who treated a priest flown to Madrid for treatment.

The US is also monitoring around 50 people who came into contact with Thomas Eric Duncan, who remains seriously ill in a Dallas hospital after picking up the killer virus in Liberia before flying to Texas.

David Cameron is chairing a meeting of the Government’s Cobra contingencies committee in London to discuss the ongoing African epidemic that has led to social unrest.

Dr Jakab, a Hungarian epidemiologist, said: “Sporadic cases of Ebola virus disease in Europe are unavoidable. This is due to travel between Europe and affected countries.

“However, the risk of spread of Ebola in Europe is avoidable and extremely low.

“European countries are among the best prepared in the world to respond to viral haemorrhagic fever (VHF) including Ebola.

“There is a risk of accidental contamination for people exposed to Ebola patients: this risk can be and must be mitigated with strict infection control measures.

“Health care workers are on the frontline of the Ebola fight and they are those most at risk of infection. They need to be protected and supported by all means.

“All countries have protocols and procedures that must be implemented when a case is suspected and it is important that these are followed diligently.”

She added that the WHO was ready to provide help and support where requested.

Health officials have said that there are no plans to screen travellers entering the UK for the virus, as more than 100 Army medics prepare to travel to Sierra Leone to help tackle the epidemic.

Last month, nurse William Pooley was successfully treated in an isolation unit at London’s Royal Free Hospital after contracting Ebola while working in Sierra Leone.

Guidance issued to hospitals by NHS England shows that the Royal Free would treat anyone infected in a UK outbreak, with plans in place to transfer patients to hospitals in Newcastle, Sheffield and Liverpool if numbers increase.

Professor David Heymann, the chairman of Public Health England told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that the Cobra meeting was not a response to a threat to the UK.

Mr Heymann, professor of Infectious disease epidemiology at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said monitoring the borders to stop people with Ebola entering the UK would be difficult, because infected travellers may not have developed any symptoms.

“It’s very difficult to monitor and to stop infections at borders, because many people who are affected cross borders in the asymptomatic phase,” he said.

“So it’s very important that countries have systems that can detect persons who come from West Africa with a fever and that if they find a person with a fever they diagnose it and deal with it accordingly.”

Vivienne Nathanson, the British Medical Association’s senior director, said any Britons who suspected they had contracted Ebola should phone for medical assistance rather than walk into a hospital or go to their GP.

She called for a “higher level of suspicion” about the disease, with doctors being more aware of the possibility of patients with Ebola.

“I think we can be reasonably confident that the UK has quite a good disaster management plan for dealing with this if we do get cases in the UK,” she said.

Dr Nathanson told BBC Radio 4’s World At One: “We do need to communicate to the public that if we do get Ebola we don’t want people walking into healthcare facilities. They need to phone and get emergency help that way, because the one thing you don’t want is people who might be carrying something that’s transmissible going into a facility.”

She added that the Texas case underlined the importance of doctors being aware of the disease among people who may have visited or been in contact with people who had been to the affected areas of West Africa.

“One thing we have learned from what happened in Texas is to have a higher level of suspicion, to actually think through the facts – could this patient who has suddenly got a fever and is feeling unwell, could it be Ebola? Have they been in the part of the world or been in contact with people from that part of the world?

“That’s the level of suspicion we need to have throughout the world.”

Published: Wednesday 8th October 2014 by The News Editor

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