Ebola crisis jumps continents raising pandemic fears

The doctor leading Sierra Leone’s fight against the worst Ebola outbreak on record died from the virus on Tuesday, the country’s chief medical officer said. The death of Dr. Sheik Umar Khan, 39, highlights the dangers health workers face in trying to halt the disease’s spread across West Africa. http://www.nytimes.com/2014/07/30/world/africa/sierra-leone-leading-doctor-dies-of-ebola.html?ref=world Ebola is believed to have killed 672 people in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone since the outbreak began in February. The regional airline Asky has suspended flights to and from Sierra Leone and Liberia. Asky, which is based in Togo, also said passengers leaving Guinea’s capital, Conakry, would be checked for symptoms before departure. Nigeria’s largest carrier, Arik Air, has suspended flights to Liberia and Sierra Leone because of the Ebola risk.
The move by airlines comes after an infected American man of Liberian descent was found to have flown from Liberia to Nigeria last week. He developed symptoms during the flight.
Doctors have been told to remain vigilant for possible cases of Ebola “imported” to the UK. http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-28558783
The medical director of Public Health England said it was “unlikely but not impossible” that travellers infected in West Africa could develop symptoms on their return. According to Dr Ben Neuman, a virologist at Reading University, the chance of the virus spreading in the UK was “very, very small”.
He said border staff are already trained to deal with illnesses of this kind, and anyone showing signs of fever from an outbreak area would be stopped, quarantined and treated in containment facilities if the infection were confirmed.
He said the virus itself is “delicate and inefficient – you have to pick it up from bodily fluids”. But he said it was sensible to be prepared, given the situation in West Africa.
A Public Health England spokeswoman said the alert sent to UK doctors on 1 July had advised them to be aware of the symptoms of Ebola, especially in people who had recently returned from the region.
“Individuals who have sudden onset of symptoms such as fever, headache, sore throat and general malaise within 21 days of visiting affected areas should receive rapid medical attention, and be asked about potential risk factors and their recent travel,” it said.
It also reminded doctors that there has never been an Ebola outbreak in Europe.
Issuing national medical alerts was a very common event, the spokeswoman added.
Neither the World Health Organization or the UK Foreign Office are recommending any travel restrictions to Guinea, Liberia or Sierra Leone.
The Department of Health said a man had been tested for Ebola in Birmingham but tests for the virus had proved negative.
A spokeswoman said protecting the public from infectious diseases was a priority and that the UK leads the world in this field.
“We are well-prepared to identify and deal with any potential cases of Ebola, though there has never been a case in this country,” she said.
“Any patients with suspected symptoms can be diagnosed within 24 hours and they would also be isolated at a dedicated unit to keep the public safe. Our specialist staff are also working with the World Health Organisation to help tackle the outbreak in Africa.”
The BBC’s Norman Smith said the Department for International Development was setting aside about £2m to provide medical staff and public information in West Africa in an attempt to contain the disease there.
Earlier, the government’s chief scientific adviser Sir Mark Walport told the Daily Telegraph that emerging infectious diseases were a “global grand challenge”.
“We were lucky with Sars. But we have to do the best horizon scanning,” he said.
At the scene
Tulip Mazumdar, Gueckadou, Guinea
This is the final resting place of the latest victim of Ebola: a four-month-old baby boy called Faya.
He caught the virus from his mother, who died a few weeks earlier. His is the 20th anonymous grave in this dark and lonely clearing.
“I was there with him just before he died,” says Adele Millimouno, a Medicins Sans Frontieres (MSF) nurse recruited from a nearby village.
“I had been feeding him milk. I stepped away, just for a short break, but then I was called back and he was dead. I was totally devastated.”
Ebola voices: Fighting the deadly virus in Guinea
Why Ebola is so dangerous
Early treatment
Elsewhere, Dr Brian McCloskey, director of global health at Public Health England, said the outbreak was “clearly not yet under control” in West Africa.
He added: “The risk to UK travellers and people working in [affected countries] of contracting Ebola is very low but we have alerted UK medical practitioners about the situation in West Africa and requested they remain vigilant for unexplained illness in those who have visited the affected area.”
BBC global health correspondent Tulip Mazumdar said the West African outbreak had been going on for four months.
In that time local people had been looking after the sick and carrying out burials, which could actually help to spread the virus, she said.
Ebola kills up to 90% of those infected, but patients have a better chance of survival if they receive early treatment.

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