Ebola test carried out after air passenger death in UK

Coloured transmission electron micro graph of a single Ebola virus, the cause of Ebola fever

A test for Ebola has been carried out on a female passenger who died after arriving in the UK from The Gambia.

The Department for Health said the test on the elderly woman, who landed at Gatwick Airport, came back negative on Sunday afternoon.

Some 728 people have died of Ebola in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone this year, in the worst-ever outbreak of the disease.

Public Health England says the risk to the UK remains very low.

The Ebola virus spreads through human contact with a sufferer's bodily fluids.

Initial flu-like symptoms can lead to external haemorrhaging from areas like eyes and gums, and internal bleeding which can lead to organ failure. The current mortality rate is about 55%.

'No public health risk'

The woman, believed to be in her early 70s, had been a passenger on a Gambia Bird flight that arrived at Gatwick on Saturday morning.

She collapsed at the airport and was later pronounced dead in hospital.

A Department of Health spokeswoman said the passenger's symptoms had not suggested she was an Ebola victim but the test was carried out because she had travelled from West Africa.

Dr Brian McCloskey, director of global public health at Public Health England (PHE), said: "There was no health risk to other passengers or crew, as the passenger did not have symptoms during the flight.

"It was considered very unlikely to be a case of Ebola but testing was done as a precaution, and was negative.

"The correct procedures were followed to confirm there was no reason to quarantine the airplane, the passengers or staff. PHE can confirm there was no public health risk around the sad death of this individual."

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A nurse sprays disinfectant at an isolation unit in Liberia A nurse sprays disinfectant at an isolation unit in Liberia
Ebola virus disease (EVD)
  • Symptoms include high fever, bleeding and central nervous system damage
  • Fatality rate can reach 90%
  • Incubation period is two to 21 days
  • There is no vaccine or cure
  • Supportive care such as rehydrating patients who have diarrhoea and vomiting can help recovery
  • Fruit bats are considered to be virus' natural host
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A Gatwick spokeswoman said the aircraft, as well as some airline and airport staff, were isolated "as a precaution" but that the plane was later cleared for its return journey.

Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond has said the government is taking the outbreak, and the threat to the UK, "very seriously".

Ministers have discussed what precautionary measures could be taken if any UK nationals in West Africa become infected with Ebola.

Public Health England has advised UK medical staff to watch out for unexplained illnesses in patients who have visited West Africa.

It said no cases of imported Ebola have ever been reported in the UK.

The US is to send at least 50 public health experts to the region to help fight the disease. They are expected to arrive in the next month.

Meanwhile, American Ebola patient Dr Kent Brantly is improving in hospital after returning to the US from Liberia. Another infected US citizen, aid worker Nancy Writebol, is expected to arrive in the US soon.

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