Ebola outbreak: UK patient given medical help in Sierra Leone

A specialist isolation ward at the Royal Free hospital in London could be used to treat patients, as Sarah Campbell reports

A British national who has contracted Ebola in Sierra Leone is being offered assistance by medical teams there, the UK's Department of Health has said.

It comes amid reports that the unnamed Briton - the first to contract the virus in this outbreak - was being assessed for transfer back to the UK.

It is understood they could be treated at an isolation unit at the Royal Free Hospital, in north London.

Health chiefs have said the risk of Ebola to the UK remains "very low".

The virus - one of the world's deadliest diseases - is spread between humans through direct contact with infected blood.

So far 1,427 people have died - more than in any other Ebola outbreak.

'Robust 'systems

The Department of Health said the Briton had been living in Sierra Leone, one the countries worst affected by the deadly virus.

BBC News correspondent Sarah Campbell said the person - who is receiving consular assistance - is believed to have been working as an aid worker in the country.

She said a "clinical decision" about whether the Briton should return to the UK could be made later and would be based on their fitness to travel along with the level of care provided in Sierra Leone.

If the person is returned to the UK, our correspondent said, they would be transferred via a "specialist transport isolation team" and could be flown to RAF Northolt, near Uxbridge, in west London.

It is likely they would then be transferred to the high-level isolation unit at the Royal Free Hospital -thought to be the only unit of its kind in Europe.

Medicins Sans Frontieres (MSF) health workers at an isolation camp in Liberia Ebola has spread across four west African countries - including Liberia (pictured) - this year

Several Sunday newspapers have also reported the patient could be transferred to London - but this is yet to be confirmed.

The BBC's Nigeria correspondent Will Ross said they would have a higher chance of survival if treated in the UK because the clinics in Sierra Leone are overwhelmed as the outbreak continues to spread.

Prof John Watson, deputy chief medical officer for England, said the overall risk to the public in the UK from Ebola continued to be "very low".

'Range of experts'

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

"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."

There is no cure for Ebola, although two Americans have recovered and were last week discharged from hospital after they were flown to the US and given an experimental drug.

Dr Kent Brantly, 33, and Nancy Writebol, 59, were flown from Liberia, in West Africa, to Atlanta, in the US, where they received an experimental treatment known as ZMapp.

Officials in Liberia have also said three medical staff have shown signs of improvement after taking the drug.

Health workers say the body has a greater chance of fighting off the virus if the patient seeks help fast and the symptoms are treated.

Dr Kent Brantly Dr Kent Brantly, who has recovered from the Ebola virus, said he was "thrilled to be alive"

In West Africa many people have been reluctant to hand over their relatives, partly because more often than not they never see them again. More than half of those who have caught Ebola have died.

Foreign Office advice, updated earlier this week, urged people to carefully assess their need to travel to Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia.

British Airways suspended flights to Liberia and Sierra Leone on 5 August until the end of the month.

The World Health Organization has put the number of people infected with the virus at 2,615. A total of 1,427 have died since the disease was identified in Guinea in March and spread to Sierra Leone, Liberia and Nigeria.

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

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Ebola Virus Disease (EVD)
A fruit bat is pictured in 2010 at the Amneville zoo in France. Fruit bats are believed to be a major carrier of the Ebola virus but do not show symptoms
  • Symptoms include high fever, bleeding and central nervous system damage
  • Fatality rate can reach 90% - but current outbreak has mortality rate of about 55%
  • 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, a delicacy for some West Africans, are considered to be virus's natural host
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