Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 21 September 2014

Ebola unlikely to hit UK, says expert who discovered virus

A public health emergency has been declared in Sierra Leone as the Ebola virus spreads throughout West Africa.
A public health emergency has been declared in Sierra Leone as the Ebola virus spreads throughout West Africa.
An Ebola virus
An Ebola virus
Border Control staff say they are unprepared for an Ebola emergency
Border Control staff say they are unprepared for an Ebola emergency

A scientist who helped to discover the deadly Ebola virus has said the current outbreak is extremely unlikely to spread to Europe.

Professor Peter Piot, who was part of the team that discovered the virus in 1976, said that the likelihood the epidemic could spread in the UK was "very, very, very low".

While concerns have been raised that border staff do not feel adequately prepared to deal with the possibility of people with Ebola coming to the UK, Prof Piot said he would happily sit next to an infected person on a plane or train.

He said border staff should not be concerned because those with full-blown Ebola would not be well enough to travel.

Prof Piot, who is now director of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said even if someone came to the UK during the incubation period, infection control measures in Britain would prevent the spread of the virus.

He said: "In Europe, the way I see it is that there is a good probability that someone will enter a country while incubating – when you have Ebola, frankly you can't travel you are so sick – it's the incubation time when people can enter the country.

"Here, because of our infection control and standards in hospitals, I think that the likelihood that would give rise to an epidemic is very, very, very low."

He said that he wouldn't mind sitting next to an infected person on a plane or train, adding: "By that I mean someone who is already infected but is not yet ill. Even in the early days when they have fever, that's also not risky for others.

"It's when they start bleeding, have diarrhoea and are vomiting, that's risky, but someone with full-blown Ebola infection can't travel.

"Even then you still need close contact. It's not like tuberculosis or Sars or the flu – that you can catch on a bus, but not Ebola. When someone is extremely ill – that is when they are very infectious, but at that stage patients can hardly move – they are not mobile.

"This is not a very contagious infection, you need close contact with someone who is really ill or who died from it.

"For border agents there is no problem that I can see.

"I think the key risk is for health workers. When someone comes (to hospital) with fever and some other symptoms health workers just have to ask where the person has been in the past month. If the answer is Sierra Leone then the red light should be flashing, and then that will require referral to a specialised unit, and the hospitals here are prepared for that."

Prof Piot said he did not think there was a risk of the epidemic spreading to Europe, but he added that in Africa the outbreak could reach other countries such as the Ivory Coast.

Latest figures from the World Health Organisation show that the outbreak of the deadly virus in western Africa has infected more than 1,300 people and killed at least 729.

Ebola has no vaccine and there is no cure.

Further reading

Sierra Leone cyclist in Ebola scare at Commonwealth Games 

Ebola virus outbreak: Sierra Leone and Liberia announce Army enforced quarantine zones

Ebola death toll surpasses 700

What signs and symptoms should we look out for?

Chief Ebola doctor in Sierra Leone Sheik Umar Khan contracts deadly disease 

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