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'What would happen if Ebola came to the UK?': Your questions answered

With the deadly Ebola virus making headlines around the world, ITV News put readers' questions to an expert on the disease in a live Facebook Q&A earlier today.

After receiving hundreds of responses, the University of Lancaster's Dr Derek Gatherer answered readers' questions on the symptoms of the disease, how it can be spread, the risk of it coming to our shores, and what would happen if it did, among plenty of other things.

Here are some of the highlights:

Kirsty Everitt: How is the virus caught?

Dr Gatherer: The virus is found in the sweat, vomit, faeces, saliva, tears and semen of affected individuals, but only once they have started showing symptoms.

The only way to catch it is if you come into contact with any of these fluids, through touching the person or touching a surface on which the fluid has been deposited, for example in a bathroom.

It is not spread by sneezing, coughing or by insect bites.

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Julie Sinclair: What is it? And where did it come from?

Dr Gatherer: Ebola is a virus. Viruses aren’t bacteria, they are inert crystalline structures that only “come alive” once they enter a host cell. The normal host of Ebola is thought to be fruit bats.

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Vicky Leigh Briggs: It reminds me of the swine flu epidemic. How easy is it to contract ebola?

Dr Gatherer: This is one of the areas on which there is most confusion in the media. Ebola is about as contagious as flu.

Some people think this means it is super-contagious, but it is not. Neither Ebola nor flu are anything like as contagious as smallpox (now happily gone for good), SARS (which we hope is gone for good) or measles (which is the real champion spreader).

So Ebola is not very contagious. But it is contagious enough to pose a problem in areas where medical services and hygiene are poor.

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Cheryl Watson: What will happen if, say someone in Glasgow had it? Would we all be checked in Glasgow?

Dr Gatherer: No. The first thing that would be done is that the case would be placed in quarantine. Questions would be asked about precise movements from the time symptoms began to appear and anybody who was in contact between the appearance of symptoms and entry to quarantine would be asked to watch out for development of any symptoms in themselves.

Tests would be performed on any such contact person who also began to feel unwell.

Contacts would be instructed to report for quarantine as soon as they felt unwell. And so the cycle would repeat itself.

This method will eliminate the transmission chain if done properly. It is not necessary to test a whole city at all.

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Beth Grace Harrison: How likely is it that the virus will travel to Europe?

Dr Gatherer: If it continues to spread in West Africa, then it is quite likely that cases will arrive in Europe. However, it is very unlikely that we will see an epidemic in Europe, as we have the hygiene facilities to limit spread and health services with resources to quarantine cases appropriately.

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Leanne Henson Millinchip: What would be the symptoms to look out for?

Dr Gatherer: The symptoms are headache, vomiting, sore throat, high fever, abdominal pain, diarrhea, blood blisters, bleeding from nose and mouth. However, there is no need to look out for any symptoms at the moment, unless you have been in one of the affected areas.

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Shelly Stoodley: Is anyone working on a cure as know there is none already?

Dr Gatherer: There is lots of work on a cure. It is a very active area of research. We are optimistic, but there won’t be treatment for several years as new medicines need to be very carefully tested for safety.

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Riri Chamas: How much time does it take for the symptoms to show? How quickly can it spread?

Dr Gatherer: 2-23 days before symptoms appear, after catching it.

As for how it spreads: fairly slowly. We have accumulated 1,200 or so cases in Africa since Christmas, but it is going steadily upwards.

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Lorraine Rice: I had heard the survival was 40/60, is that not the case?

Dr Gatherer: In the present outbreak the death rate is 56% so far, but in Guinea it is 75% which is more typical. In 2003 there was an outbreak in Congo in central Africa with an 88% death rate. The average for this strain of Ebola virus is 79% from 1976-2012

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