UK puts new health measures in place to identify Ebola victims

U.K. Secretary of State of Health Jeremy Hunt
U.K. Secretary of State of Health Jeremy Hunt | United Kingdom government

Air passengers going through London's Heathrow airport are now participating in a screening process to identify potential Ebola victims, and the screenings will expand by the end of next week to arrivals into Gatwick airport and on Eurostar.

The United Kingdom's Secretary of State for Health Jeremy Hunt discussed new protocols with members of  the House on Monday and confirmed the screenings started in Terminal 1 of Heathrow on Tuesday. Heathrow receives about 85 percent of all those coming from West Africa, where the disease continues to escalate.

"Passengers will have their temperature taken and complete a questionnaire asking about their current health, recent travel history and whether they might be at potential risk through contact with Ebola patients," Hunt said. "They will also be required to provide contact details."

Those who are cleared are given additional health information about symptoms and allowed to travel.

Hunt said there have been 4,033 deaths from Ebola so far with 8,399 probable and suspected cases in seven countries.

The heart of the epidemic is in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea with the outbreak doubling every three to four weeks, he said. The U.K. is spearheading efforts in Sierra Leone with the U.S. leading in Liberia and France working to reduce the epidemic in Guinea.

Hunt said the U.K.'s chief medical officer believes the public health risk in the country is low and the measures in place are appropriate for protection. However, officials also believe the country will see a case of Ebola and could see a small number of cases over the next three months.

That possibility makes it necessary to implement new protocols, he said.

Public Health England will start screening air passengers, identified by Border Force, headed to the U.K .on the main routes from Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea over the next week.

Hunt said a person with Ebola is only infectious if they are displaying symptoms.

Additionally, Hunt said emergency personnel are holding training exercises and those handling medical calls have a protocol to ask about travel history when people report respiratory symptoms.

The U.K. has also implemented precautions for handling high-risk patients, Hunt said. Personal protective equipment is standard on all ambulances and those suspected of having Ebola will be put in an isolation room at the nearest hospital.

Those testing positive will be transferred to the Royal Free Hospital in north London, which is a specialty center for treating dangerous infectious diseases.

Hunt said the U.K. is also set to activate Ebola bed capacity in Newcastle, Liverpool and Sheffield, which will make 26 beds available.

The British government is also working with Wellcome Trust and Medical Research Council to co-fund clinical trials of a potential vaccine,

In Sierra Leone, U.K. military medics and engineers are building a 92-bed Ebola treatment facility in Kerrytown with 12 beds for international health workers. The U.K. is supporting more than 700 beds across the country.

Hunt said there are 750 military personnel deployed with the Royal Navy's RFA Argus and its Merlin helicopters to work on construction of the Kerrytown Ebola treatment center.

The U.K. military is also training more than 120 health care workers a week in West Africa and piloting a new community approach to caring for Ebola patients, building laboratory services and supporting an information campaign.

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