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Second healthcare worker brought back to England to be monitored for Ebola

Move follows needlestick injuries while treating infected patients in Sierra Leone

Caroline White

Monday, 02 February 2015

Two UK military healthcare workers working in Sierra Leone have been flown back to England in the past couple of days after sustaining a needlestick injury while treating a person infected with Ebola, Public Health England (PHE) has confirmed.

One healthcare worker arrived back in England on Saturday, while the other was flown back today. Both have been admitted to the Royal Free Hospital in London for assessment.

They are likely to have been exposed to the Ebola virus, but, at this time, have not been diagnosed with the viral infection, and do not have symptoms, says PHE. Their next of kin have been informed.

The healthcare worker will be monitored for the remainder of their 21 day incubation period, in line with PHE’s standard procedures for returning healthcare workers PHE’s Returning Worker Scheme. Decisions on immediate and ongoing care will be made by the clinical team at hospital.

Professor Paul Cosford, PHE’s director for health protection and medical director, said: “We can confirm that all the appropriate support is being offered to this [second] individual and that strict protocols have been followed to transfer them back to the UK. We would like to emphasise that there is no risk to the general public’s health. Our thoughts are with both of the healthcare workers, and their families, affected at this time.”

Minister for the Armed Forces, Mark Francois, said the measure was “entirely precautionary,” adding: “Although we have had two similar incidents within a short space of time both appear to be unrelated. Our personnel receive the highest standard of training and briefing prior to deployment, including on the use of the specialised Personal Protective Equipment.”

Dr Peter Walsh, lecturer in primate quantitative ecology and researcher in emergent disease dynamics, at the University of Cambridge, said that there have been other needlestick injuries associated with Ebola.

“The most recent case in Germany was treated post-exposure with a vaccine similar to the vesicular stomatitis virus (VSV) now being trialed in humans. This patient tolerated the vaccine well and did not develop Ebola symptoms, although this may simply have been due to the absence of Ebola infection, as no Ebola virus was ever isolated from the patient,” he explained.

Jonathan Ball, Professor of Molecular Virology, University of Nottingham, added:  "Needlestick injury is probably one the most dangerous risks for infection, as the virus is potentially delivered directly into the bloodstream.”

But he continued: "There have been past cases of needlestick injuries, and not all people have become infected, so hopefully this will be the outcome here.”

Meanwhile, the first large scale trials of an experimental Ebola vaccine are due to start today in Liberia, one of the African countries worst affected by the current outbreak.

According to reports on BBC News Online, the plan is to eventually immunise 30,000 volunteers, including frontline healthcare workers. But to begin with, just 12 people will be given the trial jab.

The vaccine, co-developed by the National Institutes of Health in the United States and Okairos, a biotechnology firm acquired by GSK, has already been safety tested in around 200 healthy volunteers, says a report in the Irish Times.

The latest Ebola outbreak has killed almost 9,000 people to date.

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