Ebola spread in UK 'most unlikely'

Health professionals have been warned to be vigilant for signs of the deadly ebola virus (Centres for Disease Control and Prevention/PA)

Decontee Sawyer, the wife of Liberian government official Patrick Sawyer, a US citizen who died from ebola, cradles her one-year-old daughter Bella at her home in Coon Rapids, Minnesota (AP)

First published in National News © by

Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond has sought to reassure the public over fears that Ebola could spread in Britain as experts met to discuss the "very serious threat" from the largest ever outbreak of the disease.

Mr Hammond said the possibility of people contracting the deadly virus in West Africa and falling sick in the UK was being contemplated by health officials.

But he said it was "most unlikely" that Ebola could spread within the UK because of "frankly different" standards of infection control in this country.

Speaking after a meeting of the Cobra Government emergencies committee on the issue, he said the "logical" approach was to tackle the disease at source in West Africa.

"We need to just keep this in context - it's a horrible disease and this is a significant outbreak but the current number of people affected, spread across three countries, is containable at the moment. The indicators we are getting from the scientists suggest that it is not growing exponentially," he said.

"It seems in the worst outbreak areas to be contained at the present time, so that is obviously the logical approach, to try to provide additional resources to deal with the disease at source.

"I would emphasise again, in terms of the UK, the issue is about the possibility of somebody who has contracted the disease in Africa getting sick here.

"It is not about the disease spreading in the UK because we have frankly different standards of infection control procedure that would make that most unlikely."

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said Britain had expertise in the NHS and extensive experience dealing with dangerous diseases through the work of hospitals such as the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

"The risk of this disease spreading fast is much lower in the UK because of that expertise so we are taking precautionary measures," he said.

"We are looking at our capability but we are very confident that we have very good people in the NHS, very experienced people, who will be ready to deal with anything if it were to arrive in the UK."

Fears have been sparked that the epidemic which has swept West Africa, killing more than 670 people, could move to the UK after it emerged that two people have been assessed for the virus in Britain.

A man was checked over in Birmingham but tests for the deadly virus proved negative, a Department of Health spokeswoman said.

Reports suggest the man was tested earlier this week after he travelled from Benin in Nigeria via Paris to the Midlands.

Meanwhile, another male visited a separate UK hospital over fears that he had the virus.

The man, who attended Charing Cross Hospital in west London, was assessed but doctors ruled out the need for an Ebola test, the spokeswoman added.

Public Health England (PHE) warned health officials to be on the look-out for any unexplained illness in people returning from the affected countries.

The outbreak has centred on Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea. There has also been particular concern after densely populated Nigeria reported what is thought to be its first death from the disease on Friday.

American Patrick Sawyer, 40, developed symptoms on board a flight from Liberia to Nigeria. Mr Sawyer, who was of Liberian descent, had been on his way home to the US. His sister has also died of the disease.

Dr Brian McCloskey, director of global health at PHE, said: "People who have returned from affected areas who have a sudden onset of symptoms such as fever, headache, sore throat and general malaise within three weeks of their return should immediately seek medical assistance - but it is important to stress that no cases of imported Ebola have ever been reported in the UK and the risk of a traveller going to West Africa and contracting Ebola remains very low since Ebola is transmitted by direct contact with the blood or bodily fluids of an infected person."

A Department of Health spokeswoman said: "Protecting the public from infectious diseases is a priority and we lead the world in this field. We are well-prepared to identify and deal with any potential cases of Ebola, though there has never been a case in this country.

"Any patients with suspected symptoms can be diagnosed within 24 hours and they would also be isolated at a dedicated unit to keep the public safe. Our specialist staff are also working with the World Health Organisation to help tackle the outbreak in Africa."

Sir Mark Walport, the Government's Chief Scientific Adviser, said: " The Government is keeping a close eye on the Ebola outbreak and we are well- prepared.

"No cases of imported Ebola have ever been reported in the UK.

"The risk to a traveller going to West Africa of contracting Ebola is very low but the Chief Medical Officer has alerted medical practitioners about the situation in West Africa and requested they remain vigilant for unexplained illness in those who have visited the affected area."

Health workers tackling the outbreak in the region have been especially vulnerable to contracting the disease.

Dr Sheik Humarr Khan, who had been hailed as a national hero for his work treating patients with Ebola in Sierra Leone, died yesterday after being quarantined in a hospital in the country.

Two American health workers - a doctor and a missionary - are also in hospital in neighbouring Liberia after contracting the disease, prompting two US missionary groups to evacuate non-essential personnel from the country.

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