Ebola Patient Being Treated in London

By Peter Russell
WebMD Health News

Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD

Dec. 30, 2014 -- A health care worker who recently returned to Glasgow, Scotland, from Sierra Leone in West Africa has been diagnosed with Ebola. She's been transferred to a specialized unit at the Royal Free Hospital in London for treatment.

The woman, who left Sierra Leone on Dec. 28, travelled to Glasgow via Casablanca, Morocco, and London's Heathrow Airport.

'Low Public Risk'

Health authorities say the risk of infection to other passengers on the flights is extremely low. But Public Health England is arranging for those sitting near the affected passenger on the flight from Casablanca to London to be checked. Other passengers and the crew will be given information about symptoms of Ebola.

Health Protection Scotland is doing a similar exercise for those on board the woman's British Airways flight from London to Glasgow.

The affected health care worker had symptoms of Ebola after arriving in Glasgow. She was first treated there at Gartnavel Hospital's infectious disease unit.

But in the U.K., anyone diagnosed with Ebola must be transferred to the high-level isolation unit in the Royal Free Hospital in London.

Earlier this year, British volunteer nurse William Pooley was successfully treated at the same unit after catching Ebola while working in Sierra Leone.

'A Proven Track Record'

In a statement, Professor Dame Sally Davies, chief medical officer for England, says: "Our thoughts are with this individual who, along with other NHS [National Health Service] and public health colleagues, has been doing a fantastic job saving lives.

"The U.K. and Scottish governments and English and Scottish health authorities are working together to make sure that this individual receives the best possible care. U.K. hospitals have a proven track record of dealing with imported infectious diseases.

"It is important to be reassured that although a case has been identified, the overall the risk to the public continues to be low.

"We have robust, well-developed, and well-tested NHS systems for managing unusual infectious diseases when they arise, supported by a wide range of experts. The U.K. system was prepared, and reacted as planned, when this case of Ebola was identified."

Ebola is spread by direct contact with the bodily fluids, such as blood, vomit, or feces from an infected person with symptoms. Symptoms typically appear anywhere from 2 - 21 days after exposure to the virus.

Health authorities are stressing that, since the woman was symptom-free while in transit, the risk to passengers and air crew was low.

Initial or early symptoms of Ebola include fever, chills, muscle aches, headache, nausea, or sore throat, followed by vomiting, diarrhea, a rash, and bleeding.

'Fantastic Facilities'

Professor Jonathan Ball, a virologist from the University of Nottingham, says in a statement: "Given the scale of the problem in Sierra Leone, there was always a risk that U.K. volunteers could become infected. This is tragic news for the brave volunteer, but hopefully they will make a full recovery – there is no better place to be cared for than in the fantastic facilities that we are blessed with in the U.K.

"Ebola virus isn't very contagious and its transmission is associated with development of advanced signs of disease -- vomiting, diarrhea, bleeding, and death.

"Apparently, this case was picked up very quickly -- before serious symptoms have developed -- so the risk to the wider public is very, very small. I would be incredibly surprised if this case caused other infections. Even so, contacts will be traced and monitored, just to be on the safe side."

The Ebola virus has killed more than 7,800 people, mostly in West Africa, since it broke out a year ago. More than 20,000 cases of the disease have been reported.

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SOURCES: Public Health England. Scottish Government. World Health Organization. Science Media Centre. WebMD UK Health News: "UK Ebola nurse discharged from hospital."

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