Belfast Telegraph

Ebola alert: Belfast's Royal Victoria hospital tests man who returned from west Africa

By Cate McCurry

A man was last night being kept in quarantine in a Belfast hospital while he undergoes tests for the deadly Ebola virus.

The man is believed to have recently returned from west Africa, and has already been diagnosed with malaria.

He is being kept in a special isolation unit at the Royal Victoria Hospital until the results of the tests on a blood sample are known. They are expected to be made public today.

Patients and visitors last night expressed some concerns, with many voicing support for tougher screening measures.

Over the past two weeks, staff in hospitals across Northern Ireland have been taking part in mock exercises to prepare for any major outbreak.

It was also recently announced that senior doctors across all local health trusts have created contingency plans to deal with an Ebola outbreak.

In October, a woman in Londonderry was assessed at Altnagelvin hospital for Ebola, but tests were negative.

Ebola has killed almost 5,000 people since the current outbreak started in west Africa.

The Public Health Agency (PHA) said the risk to the wider community was low, but the news that someone was being tested in Belfast has caused fear.

Caroline Hull from Belfast, who was last night visiting her husband at the Royal, said she was worried.

"It's very scary to think that someone living here could have Ebola," she said.

"Everyone should be screened if they fly out of those countries because it's worrying to think anyone can come and go without being tested.

"I don't think the Government is doing enough to protect people coming in and out of African countries because it could easily spread."

At present, passengers who boarded flights in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea face a medical assessment, including temperature checks.

Those arriving at Gatwick, Heathrow and on Eurostar are also required to answer questions about their recent travel and with whom they have been in contact.

When the measures were announced, some predicted the screening procedures would fail because passengers who have visited infected areas may not be truthful when questioned.

Mr Hull said he "wouldn't be surprised" if the man tested positive for the virus, but added that he had confidence in the health service to deal with it.

"As long as he is kept in isolation I'm not too concerned about it. It doesn't bother me too much because I know he is in safe hands and that staff know what they are doing. There would be a bit more of a panic if something bad was going on," he said.

One A&E patient, who wanted to be known only as Mrs Calvert, stated: "I didn't know there was someone here who is being tested but that's the last thing we need.

"I just hope I am not put anywhere near him but I suppose it could happen anywhere; you could meet someone in the cafe who has it and there's nothing you can do." A 24-year-old man from Portaferry visiting his mother said he was concerned for staff and hospital patients.

"People are always flying back from those countries so it was probably going to end up here at some stage, but I think travellers should be tested before they enter another country if they have visited affected areas," he said.

"I'm more worried about my mum. It's more of a concern to patients who are in hospital but I would like to think that hospital staff have been trained to deal with it and know exactly what to do," he added.

In line with national guidelines, health staff are wearing protective clothing while treating the patient.

Northern Ireland's biggest healthcare union said all health trusts had put contingency plans in place for an outbreak of Ebola.

Unison representative Jill Weir said: "All the trusts should have the right equipment now for an event like this," she added.

"We have the isolation units in Accident and Emergency departments and if there is someone who presents themselves with symptoms, there are measures and equipment in place to deal with it.

"Health staff have been placed on alerts about possible pandemics before and they have been able to keep it under control.

"The trusts should be treating staff safety as a priority too and I'm confident all trusts have safety measures in place."

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