The company that possible Irish Ebola victim Dessie Quinn worked for have returned all their staff from Sierra Leone as a precaution.
The management and Board of KN Network Services (KNNS) expressed their 'deepest sympathies and sorrow' to the family and friends of the father-of-one who was found dead at his home in the small Donegal village of Mountcharles yesterday morning.
"Dessie was an extremely hard working and valued member of staff and was very popular with all his colleagues and he will be missed by everybody who worked with him," the company said this morning in a statement.
"The company have offered their support to the Quinn family in Donegal."
KNNS also said that they are liaising with all Mr Quinn's work colleagues from Sierra Leone on an ongoing basis about the 'necessary supports, updates, precautions and company contacts' as they await the outcome of tests by the HSE in Letterkenny General Hospital later today.
"KNNS have also had ongoing contacts and discussions with HSE's Health Protection Surveillance Centre. The company had already returned all their staff from Sierra Leone as a precaution," the statement continued.
Tests for the killer Ebola virus are being carried out on the remains of the Irish man who had been sick since returning home from Sierra Leone two weeks ago.
Mr Quinn (44), who had been working as an engineer in the west African country, was treated for suspected malaria.
He was found dead in bed at his home yesterday morning.
"He was being treated for malaria and as you can understand his family are absolutely devastated," local priest Fr Adrian Gavigan told the Irish Independent.
"There had been no mention of the Ebola virus at all until the announcement by the Health Services Executive.
"It is a very, very sad time for his family."
The HSE announced last night that Mr Quinn's remains were being assessed in an isolated area of Letterkenny General Hospital, after being removed from the home to the hospital by a undertaker. However, the hospital was working as normal.
Blood samples have been sent for laboratory testing to confirm whether or not he died from the Ebola virus. The results are expected late today.
Mr Quinn had been well enough to go out with friends at the weekend. He had visited pubs in Inver, around 3km from his homeplace of Mountcharles, on Sunday evening, including the Milltown Bar.
It is understood that Mr Quinn had not been to see a doctor since his return to this country.
The direction to hospitals is to screen patients who have returned within 21 days from a country where there has been an outbreak of the virus who display fever and flu-like symptoms.
Dr Darina O’Flanagan, head of the HSE Health Protection Surveillance Centre, said: “In general, the risk of contracting Ebola virus disease is extremely low and would involve very close personal contact with the infected individual or their body fluids for there to be any risk at all.
“We await the outcome of the laboratory tests before we will know whether or not this individual had contracted Ebola virus disease.
The appropriate public health guidelines are being followed at every stage in this process as a precaution.”
The Government’s emergency taskforce will meet immediately if the tests suggest that Ebola was the cause of death.
Mr Quinn worked as an engineer with K N Network Services, which is based in Clondalkin in Dublin.
The company won a contract last January to provide 600km of digital cabling and wi-fi in the Sierra Leone from Freetown to the borders of Guinea and Liberia.
All three countries, as well as Nigeria, are at the centre of the Ebola scare, with more than 370 deaths in Sierra Leone alone.
No-one from the company was available for comment last night. It’s not clear how many other Irish workers are in Sierra Leone.
There were unconfirmed reports last night that some of his colleagues had contracted the virus in Sierra Leone – but it is unclear how much close contact would have been involved.
Friends of the Quinn family say they believe Dessie, who had a young son who lived in Dublin, died as a result of contracting malaria.
“No-one who was in contact with him has been placed in quarantine and Dessie was being treated for malaria,” said one family friend.
Prof Sam McConkey, an expert on infectious diseases at the Royal College of Surgeons, said last night the advice to hospital staff is that if a patient has returned within 21 days from a country where there has been an outbreak of Ebola and has flu-like symptoms, they should be tested for Ebola.
However, he pointed out that there is a similarity in the symptoms of Ebola and malaria as well as other diseases.
Around one in 100 people with malaria die from it, health statistics show. A person infected with Ebola will typically develop fever, headache, joint and muscle pain.
People generally do not become infectious with Ebola until shortly before they develop symptoms.
Experts say people can become infected with the Ebola virus if they come into contact with the blood, body fluids or organs of an infected person.
Most people are infected by giving care to other people with the virus, either by directly touching the victim’s body or by cleaning up body fluids, such as stools, urine or vomit, that carry infectious blood.
Prof McConkey said internal bleeding from Ebola is not necessarily present in every case and a patient may suffer liver or kidney failure, inflammation of the blood vessels and low blood pressure.
“Clinically it would be difficult to distinguish from someone with severe malaria or even typhoid or bloodsteam poisoning,” he said.
The Health Protection Surveillance Centre and the HSE has sent out guidelines to hospitals in recent weeks on what they should look out for, cautioning particular vigilance if someone has been in Sierra Leone, Guinea, Liberia and Nigeria where more than 1,000 have officially died from the virus.
Health experts say that Ebola is not airborne and cannot be picked up in the same way as flu or TB.
Several hospitals have put up notices alerting patients coming to A&E who have a fever to make themselves known immediately if they have returned from one of the stricken countries in the last three weeks and have a fever.
An infected person will typically develop a fever and other symptoms suddenly.
Meanwhile, the World Health Organisation said precautionary measures are more than likely already going on behind the scenes in the HSE.
“I can’t comment on this individual’s case in Donegal as I don’t know the particulars, how the body was found and how it was handled after the death,” WHO spokesperson Gregory Hartl told Newstalk Breakfast this morning.
“If there was any suspicion of Ebola one would have hoped the protocol kicked in immediately.
“We’re fortunate in Europe that the health systems are a world apart from those in West Africa,” he continued.
“More than likely, work has already started in the Irish health system with tracing contacts of the man and getting their travel history and advising those who were in contact with him to take precautions for now, until we know for sure.”
Mr Hartl said there is still 3-400 medical staff needed on the ground in West Africa.
“It’s by far the biggest outbreak we’ve ever seen. No capable organisation is responding on its own,” he said.
“That’s why we have been sounding the alarm and saying, ‘we have to do more, we need to get the international community on board, we need more money’.”