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Ebola Threat

In its plans to prevent Ebola reaching the UK, screening of people arriving from Ebola-affected areas has started, but the mayor of London has commented that this was a "far from perfect solution".  He said "you can't test everybody" and some infected people would get through.  Blood tests cannot be carried out on every person arriving in the UK and temperature checks would not catch every case because the virus has an incubation period of up to three weeks before symptoms start.

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Screening

Screening has been introduced at Heathrow and Gatwick airports and Eurostar terminals which will include questions about passengers' travel history and a possible medical assessment.  It is expected to focus on people who have recently been to the worst-affected West African countries including Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea.

The government's chief medical officer, Dame Sally Davies, said although it was a "blunt instrument" it would save lives.  She said screening was "unlikely" to pick up any cases but stressed the "great advantage" would be to alert people as to what symptoms to look for and what to do if they fall ill.  This would reduce their chances of dying and of spreading the virus to others, she said.

Hospitals on Standby

Meanwhile, England’s major hospitals are making preparations in case they have to play a part in tackling the disease, not just the four centres specialising in control of infectious diseases which would take any initial flurry of patients.

The NHS have suggested that dozens of hospitals could end up isolating and treating patients suspected of having Ebola if a serious outbreak occurs in Britain.  A spokeswoman from the NHS commented that all hospitals with the capacity to isolate patients, in side rooms or elsewhere, were “gearing up” for the possibility of receiving Ebola patients.

It is not known exactly how many of England’s 160 acute hospital trusts have that capacity, but it is thought to be the larger ones, totalling several dozen.  If cases do emerge, the NHS’s plan is for patients to be initially taken to the Royal Free Hospital in north London.

The Royal Free has the UK’s only high-level isolation unit used to treat people with highly infectious diseases. It is where British nurse Will Pooley – who contracted Ebola while working in Sierra Leone – recovered from the disease in August and September after receiving the experimental drug ZMapp.
Although the unit has only two beds, capacity will be expanded as a first step if the need arises, in order to utilise the skills and experience of its dedicated team of doctors, nurses and laboratory staff specialising in infectious diseases.

But the hospital said it was “unlikely” that more than two patients would be admitted with Ebola at the same time.

After that, the infectious diseases units at the Royal Liverpool Hospital, Royal Hallamshire Hospital in Sheffield and Royal Victoria Infirmary in Newcastle upon Tyne would receive cases.

Risk of Ebola Arriving in the UK Remains Very Low

Dr Nick Beeching, clinical director of the Tropical and Infectious Diseases Unit at the Royal Liverpool Hospital, said that his unit is on standby to assist the Royal Free in managing patients with Ebola. However, “while we are planning for this possibility we do not currently expect to care for any patients with confirmed Ebola. There is no risk to the general public and anybody coming to the Royal as a patient or visitor should not be concerned”, Beeching added.

“The risk of Ebola arriving in the UK remains very low and it can only be caught through direct contact with an infected person’s bodily fluids [such as saliva or blood]”, said Dr David Throssell, medical director of the Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust.

Its infectious diseases unit “is well-prepared with the equipment, facilities and specialists to deal with any cases of Ebola appropriately and safely”, he added.