• Ebola Virus - Is the UK at Risk?

News & Views

Ebola Virus - Is the UK at Risk?

Oct 17 2014

A serious, often fatal, disease for which there is currently no licensed vaccines or treatment, Ebola virus disease (formerly known as Ebola haemorrhagic fever) was first identified in 1976 during two simultaneous outbreaks in Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Reappearing in March this year, the most recent Ebola outbreak in West Africa has killed 4,493 people to date, with the majority of cases occurring in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea. As the Ebola crisis in West Africa worsens and cases are reported in America and Spain, the UN calls for $1bn to fight the virus. With a handful of confirmed cases outside West Africa including 8 cases in the US, 3 cases in both Germany and Spain, and a case each in Norway, France and the UK, it’s time to ask: is the UK at risk?  

What the experts say

With its sudden onset and grisly symptoms, Ebola spreads through infected droplets such as blood, faeces, and vomit, and can enter the body through the eyes, nose, mouth, or broken skin. Direct contact with an infected patient's body fluids is needed in order to contract the virus.

In a Q & A this month, Public Health England stated that Ebola risk in the UK is minimal: “The overall risk to the general UK population continues to be low. The virus is only transmitted by direct contact with the blood or body fluids (such as blood, saliva or vomit) of an infected person … While the UK might see cases of imported Ebola, there is minimal risk of it spreading to the general population.”

Brian McCloskey, Public Health England's Director of Global Health also reassured the general public in a recent article, stating: "In the UK anyone suspected of having Ebola would be tested quickly and their close family and contacts monitored until they are given the all clear. UK hospitals are well prepared to handle infectious disease and any patient would be cared for in isolation by specialist staff."

Measures taken in the UK

On Tuesday 14th October, the UK government launched Ebola screening at Heathrow airport which includes temperature checks and questionnaires for any passengers travelling to the UK from infected regions. Any travellers testing positive for Ebola will be immediately transferred to the Royal Free Hospital in London, a leading specialist centre for the treatment of deadly infectious diseases. Screenings will also be rolled out at Gatwick airport and St Pancras Eurostar station over the next week.

President Obama warned in a speech in September that the Ebola outbreak posed a threat to global security. Speaking in Portsmouth, the Prime Minister, David Cameron reiterated that the UK was doing all that it could to fight Ebola: "Not only are we doing more than almost any other country in the world to deal with this problem at source in Sierra Leone and other countries, we are also taking very vigorous steps here to make sure we keep our people safe."

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