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Ebola virus threat to the UK is 'very low'

10:00am Thursday 31st July 2014 content supplied byNHS Choices

A person is infectious as long as their blood and secretions contain the virus.

Ebola virus is generally not spread through routine social contact such as shaking hands with patients without symptoms.

The virus is not airborne, so it's not as infectious as diseases such as the flu - you'd need to get close to it to catch it.

 

Who's at risk from Ebola?

Anyone who has close contact with an infected person or handles samples from patients is at risk of becoming infected. Hospital workers, laboratory workers and family members are at greatest risk.

 

How is Ebola diagnosed?

It's difficult to know if a patient is infected with Ebola virus in the early stages. The early symptoms of Ebola, such as fever, headache and muscle pain, are similar to those of many other diseases.

But health workers are on standby to act quickly. If anyone in the UK develops the above symptoms and has potentially been in close contact with the virus, they will be admitted to hospital and will most likely be quarantined.

Samples of blood or body fluid can be sent to a laboratory to be tested for the presence of Ebola virus, and a diagnosis can be made rapidly. If the result is negative, doctors will test for other diseases, such as malaria, typhoid fever and cholera.

 

What are the treatments for Ebola?

There's currently no specific treatment or cure for the Ebola virus, although potential new vaccines and drug therapies are being developed and tested.

Patients need to be treated in isolation in intensive care. Dehydration is common, so fluids may be given intravenously (directly into a vein). Blood oxygen levels and blood pressure will be maintained at the correct level, and the body organs supported while the patient recovers.

 

What is the risk of Ebola in the UK?

The risk to the UK is thought to be very low and there have been no reported cases.

While it is theoretically possible someone with the virus could arrive in the UK, health professionals have been told to watch out for any patient presenting with unusual symptoms.

If this happened, the infected person would then be quickly admitted to hospital and quarantined, as was the case with a man who arrived in the UK and then developed Middle East Respiratory Syndrome in 2012.

Ebola virus is not airborne, so there is no credible risk of a swine flu-like global pandemic.

You cannot catch Ebola by travelling on a plane with someone who is infected, unless you come into very close physical contact with them, such as kissing.

 

What precautions are being taken?

Public Health England (PHE), the body responsible for public health in England, has told health professionals about the situation in west Africa and asked for vigilance about unexplained illness in people who have visited the affected area.

PHE has provided advice for humanitarian workers planning to work in affected areas. It is also working with people from Sierra Leone living in England.

Advice has already been issued to immigration removal centres on carrying out health assessments for people who may have been in Ebola outbreak areas within the preceding 21 days.

And PHE is liaising with the UK Border Agency and port health authorities to update guidance for staff working in airports and ports.

Dr Brian McCloskey, PHE's director of global health said: "The risk to UK travellers and people working in these countries of contracting Ebola is very low.

"People who have returned from affected areas who have a sudden onset of symptoms such as fever, headache, sore throat and general malaise [sense of feeling unwell] within three weeks of their return should immediately seek medical assistance." 

Edited by NHS Choices. Follow Behind the Headlines on Twitter. Join the Healthy Evidence forum.

Summary

Health news has been dominated in recent days by the outbreak of the Ebola virus in west Africa, with more than 1,200 confirmed cases and 672 deaths.

Links to Headlines

Ebola virus outbreak: live. The Daily Telegraph, July 31 2014

Ebola virus: what is the real risk to the UK? The Guardian, July 31 2014

Truth about incurable virus that's just one plane ride from Britain: Experts say statistics show Ebola WILL reach Britain. Mail Online, July 31 2014

Useful Links

Further Readings

GOV.UK. Ebola: UK government response. July 31 2014

World Health Organization. Ebola virus disease, West Africa - update. July 27 2014

Public Health England. Ebola support and surveillance continues but risk remains low in England. July 30 2014

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