A Briton infected with Ebola in Sierra Leone is being evacuated to the UK, the African country’s health ministry says.
The patient is not currently seriously unwell and is being medically evacuated in a specially equipped C17 Royal Air Force (RAF) plane to RAF Northolt in the UK.
Upon arrival in the UK, the patient will be transported to an isolation unit at the Royal Free London NHS Foundation Trust.
In a statement, the Department of Health said: “The UK has well established and practised infection control procedures for dealing with cases of imported infectious disease and these will be strictly followed to minimise the risk of transmission while the patient is in transit and receiving treatment at the Royal Free Hospital.
Ebola is transmitted by direct contact with the blood or bodily fluids of an infected person. No cases of imported Ebola have been reported in the UK.
Professor John Watson, Deputy Chief Medical Officer, said: “It is important to be reassured that although a case of Ebola in a British national healthcare worker residing in Sierra Leone has been identified and is being brought back to the UK the overall risk to the public in the UK remains very 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. “UK hospitals have a proven record of dealing with imported infectious diseases and this patient will be isolated and will receive the best care possible.”
Dr Paul Cosford, Director for Health Protection at Public Health England, said: “The patient is being transferred to the Royal Free Hospital for appropriate treatment in an isolation unit, with all appropriate protocols promptly activated by the Department of Health, PHE and NHS England.
“Protective measures will be strictly maintained to minimise the risk of transmission to staff transporting the patient to the UK and healthcare workers treating the individual. “For Ebola to be transmitted from one person to another contact with blood or other body fluids is needed and as such, the risk to the general population remains very low.”
Consular assistance is being provided to the Briton.The World Health Organisation (WHO) has put the number of people infected with the deadly virus at 2,615.
Some 1,427 have died since the disease was identified in Guinea in March and spread to Sierra Leone, Liberia and Nigeria.
Rigorous quarantine measures are used to stop the spread of Ebola, as well as high standards of hygiene for anyone who might come into contact with sufferers.
Symptoms of the virus appear as a sudden onset of fever, intense weakness, muscle pain, headache and sore throat.
According to the WHO, this is followed by vomiting, diarrhoea, rash, impaired kidney and liver function and, in some cases, both internal and external bleeding.
The effects of the disease normally appear between two and 21 days after infection.
It is transmitted to people from wild animals and spreads in the human population through person-to-person transmission.
Outbreaks have a case fatality rate of up to 90%.
The WHO says the disease can be passed between people by direct contact – through broken skin or mucous membranes – with the blood, secretions, organs or other bodily fluids of infected people, and indirect contact with environments contaminated with such fluids.
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) issued updated travel advice earlier this week which urged people to carefully assess their need to travel to Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia.
“General medical facilities throughout Sierra Leone are currently under severe strain due to the Ebola outbreak, and unable to provide the same standard of healthcare as in the UK. Dedicated healthcare facilities for Ebola are overwhelmed,” the FCO warned.
The Sierra Leone parliament has voted to pass a new law which means anyone caught hiding an Ebola patient can receive prison terms of up to two years.
Some 910 cases have been recorded in the country – and 392 deaths – but the WHO believes the magnitude of the outbreak has been underestimated because people are hiding infected friends and family in their homes.
In a situation assessment issued on Friday, the organisation warned: “As Ebola has no cure, some believe infected loved ones will be more comfortable dying at home.”
It was confirmed on Friday that an Irish engineer who died at home after returning from working in Sierra Leone had not contracted Ebola.
Dessie Quinn, 43, was being treated for malaria after returning two weeks ago from the West African country and was found dead in bed in Co Donegal by a friend in the early hours of Thursday.The Health Service Executive said test samples proved negative for Ebola.