Health chiefs are awaiting blood test results today on a suspected Ebola case in Ireland after a man who recently returned from Africa died suddenly.
The remains of the suspected victim are being kept in an isolated section of a hospital in Co Donegal until experts determine whether or not he had contracted the deadly disease. Test results are expected later today.
Locals named the man as father of one as Dessie Quinn, aged 43, from the Doorin area, outside Mountcharles, Co Donegal. He is thought to have been living with his partner in Dublin, but was visiting his large family in Co Donegal when he was taken ill.
Neighbours said the man may have been getting treatment for suspected malaria after returning from Sierra Leone when he died. However, it is not thought he was an inpatient at any medical facility.
One source believed he was working for a telecommunications company in the west African country and had returned to Ireland within the last few weeks.
The Health Service Executive (HSE) would only say the remains of a person who recently returned from an area of Africa hit by the outbreak were found in Co Donegal yesterday morning.
"Until a diagnosis is confirmed, and as a precautionary measure, the individual's remains will stay in the mortuary pending the laboratory results which are expected late tomorrow," a HSE spokesman said last night.
One local man who knew the suspected victim said he was talking to him last week at a festival. "I met him at the festival in Mountcharles last Friday," he said. "He was just home and as far as I know he was in Donegal since he came back from Sierra Leone. He could have been back two weeks or three weeks, I'm not sure."
The man added: "Everyone knew him. He was great company to be along with, he was a very nice fella."
Health chiefs have stressed that the risk of transmission of any disease is considered to be "extremely low", but precautionary measures have been put in place.
Dr Darina O'Flanagan, head of the HSE Health Protection Surveillance Centre, said a person would have to be in very close personal contact with an infected individual or their body fluids for there to be any risk.
"We await the outcome of the laboratory tests before we will know whether or not this individual had contracted Ebola virus disease," she said. "The appropriate public health guidelines are being followed at every stage in this process as a precaution." The HSE has refused to give any more details about the case.
Donegal Mayor John Campbell said the county was shocked, but urged people not to panic.
"It is unconfirmed that it is Ebola at this stage, and even if it was confirmed the chances of it being passed on to anyone else are very small. So people shouldn't panic," he said. "It's a big shock in the area. I know the family well and our thoughts are with them."
The suspected victim's body has been transferred to Letterkenny General Hospital. Donegal TD (MP) Thomas Pringle urged people in the county not to worry until health chiefs carry out their tests. "This is a sudden tragic death and because this man worked in Africa the HSE have to take precautions," he said. "I think we should wait until the cause of death is confirmed. Given the media attention about Ebola over the last while it is important that people do not panic or worry about it until we hear from the HSE."
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