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Ebola virus warning for the UK: Health officials issue warning to doctors as outbreak fears grow

By Adam Withnall

Public health officials have issued an urgent warning to British doctors to watch for signs of the Ebola virus arriving in the UK, after an infected man was allowed to fly from the affected countries to a major international travel hub.

Patrick Sawyer’s death in Lagos, Nigeria has sparked a reaction around the world as fears grow that the deadly virus could infect populations beyond West Africa.

The disease, which can be fatal in as many as 90 per cent of cases, causes both internal and external bleeding and has no cure, has now killed more than 670 people across Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

It has been the subject of a major campaign from the UN’s World Health Organisation – and questions remain as to how Mr Sawyer, whose sister had just died from Ebola and who had started presenting symptoms, was allowed to board multiple international flights.

Vomiting and suffering from diahhorea, he flew from Liberia, had a stopover in Ghana, changed planes in Togo and then died in Nigeria – and experts say he could have passed on the disease to anyone sat near him or who used the same toilet on one of the planes.

Dr Brian McCloskey, director of global health at Public Health England, said the Government agency was carefully monitoring the Ebola situation and that it had started taking action to protect the UK population.

“[It is] the largest outbreak of this disease to date,” Dr McCloskey said. “And it's clear the outbreak is not under control.

Dr McCloskey said the case of Mr Sawyer was a particular “cause for concern”, adding: “We have alerted UK medical practitioners about the situation in West Africa and requested they remain vigilant for unexplained illness in those who have visited the affected area.”

The danger to UK travellers going out to West Africa is thought to low, and Dr McCloskey said health officials were engaging in “preparatory thinking rather than alarm”.

Professor David Heymann, head of the Centre on Global Health Security at Chatham House, London and the chairman of Public Health England, was critical that an Ebola victim had been allowed to fly out of the effected zone.

He told The Independent: “There has been a lack of international cooperation as to the recommendations of what needs to be done [to stop the disease spreading] – and much greater collaboration is needed.

“But at the same time its false to say that border controls can stop infections from spreading – you can be not showing symptoms or even travel when you have symptoms and keep them hidden, as has happened with doctors in the past.”

Professor Heymann, who worked as an epidemics expert in sub-Saharan Africa during the first ever Ebola outbreaks in the 1970s and '80s, said this would not be the first time the virus had reached a major European aviation hub.

But he said the UK was “well-prepared” to deal with new infectious diseases - right down “from the Prime Minister to local authorities”.

“We should be watching out for this, as we should be watching out for all emerging infections. The UK and other EU countries are on constant alert, and many exercises are carried out to know what to do if Ebola does emerge. The UK has prepared for this scenario.”

Speaking to the BBC’s Today programme, expert virologist Professor John Oxford said it would be “a couple of weeks” before we know whether any of those flying with Mr Sawyer – who could have travelled on to all corners of the globe – were infected with the disease.

He said that it was likely airports like Heathrow in London would be making extra efforts to keep an eye on people coming in from West Africa, but added: “I think you have to be careful to balance between panic – because we know from the past that you can’t stop aircraft flying – and alertness.

“I think people will be [more] alert at airports – they have been alert for some time with viruses like Mers, Sars and bird flu, so I don’t think it will be much more of an effort to be alert for Ebola.”

Common Ebola symptoms include:

Fever

Headache

Joint and muscle aches

Weakness

Diahhorea

Vomiting

Stomach pain

Lack of appetite

Source: Independent

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