Republic on Ebola alert after man home from Africa dies suddenly in Donegal: Health chiefs away test results
Health chiefs are awaiting blood tests for the killer Ebola virus which are being carried out on the remains of an Irish father-of-one who has died just across the border.
Dessie Quinn (44) had been sick since returning to the Republic from Sierra Leone two weeks ago.
He had been working as an engineer in the west African country, and had been treated for malaria in Africa.
He was found dead in bed at his home in the small Donegal village of Mountcharles early yesterday morning.
"He was being treated for malaria and as you can understand his family are absolutely devastated," local priest Fr Adrian Gavigan said.
"There had been no mention of the Ebola virus at all until the announcement by the Health Services Executive (HSE). 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 his 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. It is understood that Mr Quinn had not been to see a doctor since his return to this country.
The current advice to hospitals is to screen patients who have returned within 21 days from a country where there has been an outbreak of the virus and who display fever or 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 Irish 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 KN Network Services which is based in Clondalkin in Dublin.
The company won a contract last January to provide 600kms of digital cabling and wifi 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 over 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 currently 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.
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.