The deadly Ebola virus has the potential to spread across the world in just three weeks, infecting people from places as far apart as the United Kingdom and China, scientists warn.
On Monday a Spanish nurse tested positive for Ebola after helping treat a missionary doctor who was repatriated to Madrid last month. It was the first case of the virus being spread from one patient to another outside west Africa, and the news has raised fears that the Ebola virus is about to spread across Europe.
Scientists have used Ebola disease spread patterns and airline traffic data to predict a 75 per cent chance the virus could be imported to France by 24 October and a 50 per cent chance it could hit Britain by that date.
These numbers are based on air traffic remaining at full capacity. Assuming an 80 per cent reduction in travel to reflect the fact that many airlines are halting flights to affected regions, France’s risk is still 25 per cent and Britain’s is 15 per cent.
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The deadly epidemic has killed more than 3,400 people since it began in west Africa in March and has now started to spread faster, infecting almost 7,200 people so far.
Nigeria, Senegal and now the United States – where the first case was diagnosed on Tuesday in a man who flew in from Liberia – have all seen people carrying the Ebola haemorrhagic fever virus, apparently unwittingly, arrive on their shores.
France is among countries most likely to be hit next because the worst affected countries include Guinea, alongside Sierra Leone and Liberia, which is a French-speaking country and has busy travel links back, while Britain’s Heathrow airport is one of the world’s biggest travel hubs.
France and Britain have each treated one national who was brought home with the disease and then cured. The scientists’ study suggests that more may bring it to Europe not knowing they are infected.