Briton With Ebola 'Could Be Returned To UK For Treatment'

A British national who tested positive for Ebola in Sierra Leone could be flown back to the UK for treatment.

It has been reported that a decision on whether to transport the Briton here may be taken today, but officials from the Department of Health would not confirm this.

It is the first confirmed case of a Briton contracting the deadly virus, for which there is no cure, during the recent outbreak.

The Briton could be treated at the Royal Free Hospital in London, experts have said

Professor Tom Solomon, director of the Institute of Infection and Global Health at the University of Liverpool, said the "strains" on the healthcare system in Sierra Leone may mean a decision is taken to bring the Briton to the UK.

"We do have facilities in the UK for caring for people with haemorrhagic fevers," he said. "There is a high-level isolation unit at the Royal Free Hospital in London which is very well set up for things like this.

"The medical services in Sierra Leone are very strained at the minute so it may well be the case that this person is brought to the UK for treatment."

Prof Solomon said the chances of the infection spreading are minimal, saying the patient would be transported "in what is effectively a bubble".

Professor John Watson, deputy chief medical officer, said yesterday: "The overall risk to the public in the UK continues to be very low.

"Medical experts are currently assessing the situation in Sierra Leone to ensure that appropriate care is provided.

"We have robust, well-developed and well-tested NHS systems for managing unusual infectious diseases when they arise, supported by a wide range of experts."

Consular assistance is being provided to the Briton.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has put the number of people infected with the deadly virus at 2,615. Some 1,427 have died since the disease was identified in Guinea in March and spread to Sierra Leone, Liberia and Nigeria.

Rigorous quarantine measures are used to stop the spread of Ebola, as well as high standards of hygiene for anyone who might come into contact with sufferers.

Symptoms of the virus appear as a sudden onset of fever, intense weakness, muscle pain, headache and sore throat.

According to the WHO, this is followed by vomiting, diarrhoea, rash, impaired kidney and liver function and, in some cases, both internal and external bleeding.

The effects of the disease normally appear between two and 21 days after infection.

It is transmitted to people from wild animals and spreads in the human population through person-to-person transmission. Outbreaks have a case fatality rate of up to 90%.

The WHO says the disease can be passed between people by direct contact - through broken skin or mucous membranes - with the blood, secretions, organs or other bodily fluids of infected people, and indirect contact with environments contaminated with such fluids.

The Sierra Leone parliament has voted to pass a new law which means anyone caught hiding an Ebola patient can receive prison terms of up to two years.

Some 910 cases have been recorded in the country - and 392 deaths - but the WHO believes the magnitude of the outbreak has been underestimated because people are hiding infected friends and family in their homes.

In a situation assessment issued on Friday, the organisation warned: "As Ebola has no cure, some believe infected loved ones will be more comfortable dying at home.

"Others deny that a patient has Ebola and believe that care in an isolation ward - viewed as an incubator of the disease - will lead to infection and certain death.

"Most fear the stigma and social rejection that come to patients and families when a diagnosis of Ebola is confirmed."

The WHO reported that corpses are being buried in rural villages without notifying health officials and with no investigation of the cause of death.

In some instances epidemiologists have travelled to villages and counted the number of fresh graves as a rough estimate of suspected cases.