1. ITV Report

Could the deadly Ebola virus spread to Britain?

The Ebola virus. Photo: Frederick Murphy/DPA

By Daniel Bird: ITV News

The "out of control" Ebola virus outbreak, which has killed over 400 people in West Africa, could spread to Britain and the rest of Europe if cases continue to rise in major cities, an expert has warned.

There have been 779 reported cases of the disease in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia with 481 deaths since the outbreak began in March this year, according to World Health Organisation (WHO) figures.

Around two-thirds of the reported Ebola cases have been in remote forest areas close to where the outbreak began.

However, figures from the global health body showed that there had been 65 reported cases and 33 deaths in Guinea's capital Conakry - which has a population of over 10 million people.

Dr Derek Gatherer, a researcher at Lancaster University, told ITV News the main threat of Ebola spreading to the UK would come from infected people travelling from major airports in West Africa to Europe.

Since 1976 [first outbreak of the disease], the World Health Organisation has done a good job of keeping it contained.

The key this time possibly lies in what happens to the cases in the big cities.

– Dr Derek Gatherer, researcher at Lancaster University

He added that he would recommend airlines in West Africa to closely monitor passengers in a bid to stop the virus spreading.

Dr Gatherer said those with Ebola who are still feeling healthy are "not likely to be contagious" so the focus should be on those travelling who feel unwell.

The Ebola virus is spread by contact with bodily fluids from infected people, which includes urine, sweat and blood, and symptoms include headaches, fever and internal and external bleeding.

It can take up to 21 days for the symptoms to show and the virus kills up to 90% of those infected. No cure for the disease exists.

Dr Gatherer added that if a case of Ebola was discovered in Britain, the NHS would be well-equipped to quickly deal with it.

I think provided we were vigilant about Ebola we could catch cases fairly quickly.

If people arrive from West Africa and are unwell, the NHS could treat them immediately.

– Dr Derek Gatherer, researcher at Lancaster University

Dr Dilys Morgan, head of gastrointestinal, emerging and zoonotic diseases department at Public Health England, said the risk of a traveller contracting Ebola is "very low".

Public Health England will continue to monitor the situation, but no imported cases of Ebola have ever been reported in the UK.

The risk of a traveller contracting Ebola is very low without direct contact with the blood or body fluids of an infected person or animal.

People returning from Guinea, Liberia or Sierra Leone who have a sudden onset of symptoms such as fever, headache, sore throat and general malaise within 3 weeks of their return should immediately seek medical assistance.

– Dr Dilys Morgan, head of gastrointestinal, emerging and zoonotic diseases department at PHE

The Foreign Office has also issued travel guidance for those intending to visit Guinea, Liberia or Sierra Leone saying people "should maintain good personal hygiene and avoiding eating bushmeat".

Medical charity Doctors Without Borders, who has sent teams to outbreak sites in West Africa, said the situation was "out of control".

“The epidemic is out of control. With the appearance of new sites in Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia, there is a real risk of it spreading to other areas.

We have reached our limits. Despite the human resources and equipment deployed by MSF [Doctors Without Borders] in the three affected countries, we are no longer able to send teams to the new outbreak sites.

– Dr Bart Janssens, Doctors Without Borders director of operations

The group has called for a "massive deployment of resources by regional governments and aid agencies" to bring the disease under control.

Local communities were "very frightened" of Ebola and had a "lack of understanding about how the disease spreads" which resulted in people attending funerals where infection-control measures were not in place.

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