THE BLOG

Ebola Poses Serious Health and Security Risk to European Countries

09/10/2014 12:00 BST | Updated 09/12/2014 10:59 GMT

The Ebola outbreak continues to worsen.

The deadly epidemic has killed more than 3,400 people since it began in West Africa in March and has now started to spread faster, infecting almost 7,200 people so far. Around 500 people a week are contracting the disease in Liberia alone.

If the spread is not stemmed that figure will rise to 2000 each month, according to Hans Rosling, professor in international health at Karolinska Institute. In nine weeks we will have 4000 Ebola-stricken people a week. People have not yet fully recognised the true extent of this increase.

And now the world is beginning to wake up to the fact that this is not just an African epidemic, nor is it just a simple threat to health.

Scientists have used Ebola disease spread patterns and airline traffic data to predict a 75 percent chance the virus could surface in France by October 24th, and a 50 percent chance it could hit Britain by the same date.

Those numbers are based on air traffic remaining at full capacity. Assuming an 80 percent reduction in travel to reflect that many airlines are halting flights to affected regions, France's risk is still 25 percent, and Britain's is 15 percent.

Furthermore, the countries worst affect run the risk of serious breakdowns in law and order, with huge streams of refugees and an accelerating spread of the disease laying in its wake.

I am travelling to Brussels next week to meet with officials from the European Parliament and Commission to discuss ways in which RegPoint might be able to assist. Our experience tackling SARS in China has led to the development of our world-leading disease management system, which you can read more about here [LINK].

France is said to be among countries most likely to be hit next because the worst affected countries - Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia - include French speakers and have busy travel routes back, while Britain's Heathrow is one of the globe's airport hubs.

France and Britain have each treated one national who was brought home with the disease and then cured.

It looks likely they won't be the last.

For every death at the hands of Ebola, another three or four people will perish as a result of other diseases which are not treated. This is the sinister nature of this worsening catastrophe.

And it isn't just Britain and France who are under threat in Europe. Belgium, the home of the EU institutions, has a 40 percent chance of seeing the disease arrive, while Spain and Switzerland have lower risks of 14 percent each. But as we all know, Spain already has a case of Ebola and several in quarantine.

Jonathan Ball, a professor of molecular virology at Britain's Nottingham University, has rightly said that even with exit screening at airports of affected countries, the long incubation period means "cases can slip through the net".

He summarized the threat perfectly.

"Whilst the risk of imported Ebola virus remains small, it's still a very real risk, and one that won't go away until this outbreak is stopped. Ebola virus isn't just an African problem."

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