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UK on high alert amid fears of Ebola virus spread

False alarm for two suspected cases in UK

Caroline White

Wednesday, 30 July 2014

The UK is on high alert for cases of Ebola virus in travellers returning from West Africa after two people were thought to have been infected amid fears that the disease may have spread beyond West Africa.

Earlier this month Public Health England warned doctors to be on the look-out for symptoms in people who have recently visited Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, the epicentre of the latest outbreak.

The disease, which causes severe bleeding, and can kill up to 90% of those infected, is spread by direct contact with the blood and bodily fluids of infected animals or people. Symptoms include high fever, sore throat, vomiting and diarrhoea.

So far, the disease has claimed 672 lives, and there are now fears that it could have spread beyond West Africa after a 40-year-old Liberian national died in Nigeria last Friday.

The man had travelled from the US to attend the funeral of his sister who had died of the disease, after which he boarded several planes before being taken to hospital in Lagos, suffering from vomiting and diarrhoea. Laboratory tests confirmed Ebola virus in a sample taken from the man.

Two people in England—one in London and one in Birmingham—suspected of having been infected with Ebola, don’t have the virus, doctors have confirmed.

But in an interview with the Daily Telegraph, England’s Chief Scientific Advisor, Sir Mark Walport, warned that Britain was at risk.

“The UK is fortunate in its geographical position. We are an island. But we are living in a completely interconnected world where disruptions in countries far away will have a major impact,” he told the newspaper. The government was keeping a close eye on the outbreak, he said.

In an interview with the BBC earlier today, foreign secretary Philip Hammond moved to quell anxieties, by saying that the outbreak posed “no immediate threat to the UK.”

“Our primary concern will be about the potential risk to UK nationals in the area of the outbreak,” he explained.

But he would be attending an emergency meeting of Cobra to discuss the implications of the outbreak for the UK, including expert advice on whether any travel bans should be imposed, he said.

He pointed out that there was a considerable amount of traffic between West Africa and the UK, and emphasised: “It would be folly to assume that just because something is currently in one part of the globe, it will remain in that part of the globe.”

In a bid to accelerate the response to the current outbreak, the Director General of the World Health Organization held talks with international donors and development partners on 24 July in Geneva.

The Regional Director for the Africa Region, Dr Luis Sambo, has also been on a fact-finding mission in the three affected countries to assess the extent of the outbreak, and explore how best to rapidly contain it.

“Modern diagnostic tools are available to rapidly identify Ebola virus, though access to these in the isolated rural areas of Africa remains problematic for financial and practical reasons," commented Andrew Easton, Professor of Virology, University of Warwick School of Life Sciences.

"This is unfortunate because rapid diagnosis early in an outbreak is likely to reduce the impact of the infection," he said.

“The overall picture is that while we know a great deal about the virus we have a long way to go in providing effective and accessible prevention and treatment for those at risk,” he added.

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