Ebola ‘harder to catch than you think’, Manchester expert assures UK

Ebola is a lot harder to catch than hysteria would have you believe, claims a Manchester expert.

The deadly virus was contracted for the first time outside West Africa on Monday as a nurse in Spain tested positive. 

Teresa Romero Ramos caught the disease after treating a patient repatriated to Madrid from Sierra Leone.

Since news broke of the case fear has spread across Europe and rest of the world – yet an expert from the University of Manchester has emphasised that despite concern the virus could reach our shores, a serious outbreak is unlikely.

Dr Sheena Cruickshank, an expert in immunology and microbiology, told MM: “I don’t think it’s very likely we’ll get a similar case here. Ebola is spread through direct contact with infected bodily fluids.

“It’s not like the common cold or the flu virus where you can get infected by somebody sneezing on you. It’s much harder to catch.

“You would have to be physically touching something that was coming from an infected person. You’d need to be actually handling their vomit or their faeces or cleaning up the body or washing the patient. It’s very hands-on to catch, which is why it should be easily contained.”

Ramos, whose condition is said to have worsened, is the first person to have caught Ebola in Europe after she was part of the team attending to a missionary who had been infected with the virus.

Healthcare workers and laboratory workers might worry they’ll be at a greater risk than the general public and while this is true, Dr Cruickshank told MM there isn’t cause for panic.

She said: “You’re more at risk if you’re a medical health professional because obviously you’re working in direct contact with these unfortunate patients.

“But healthcare workers who have contracted Ebola are still very much in the minority.

“We can only assume [Ramos’] protective gear wasn’t quite adequate – it possibly could have had a tear in it – or maybe she didn’t follow correct procedures in terms of washing her hands.

“We’ve had Ebola successfully treated in the UK and the staff who worked with that patient are OK.

“The reason for the terrible outbreak in West Africa was the fact that there aren’t proper procedures in place, because the affected areas are such poor countries.

“But if proper procedures are in place, there should be no danger of infection.”

And Dr Cruickshank said if someone does contract Ebola, all is not lost.

While immediate treatment is absolutely crucial, the experimental drug being used to treat patients, ZMapp, has proved very effective despite being in short supply.

She said: “If somebody contracts Ebola they should seek prompt treatment. The sooner the patient is treated, the better the outcome.

“People who are in contact with somebody who has been infected must get that person into treatment as quickly as possible. It’s about isolation and minimal handling of the infected person.”

In a similar vein Dr Cruickshank advised those travelling to West Africa, including volunteers and aid workers, to avoid obvious pitfalls.

She said: “If someone from here were to travel to West Africa I’d advise them not to eat bushmeat – including apes and bats – because that might be one of the sources of the virus.

“And try to avoid contact with infected people and those who have symptoms and wash your hands because personal hygiene is very, very important in trying to prevent the spread of the disease.

“As always, just follow safety regulations very strictly.”

Image courtesy of EC/ECHO/Cyprien Fabre, with thanks

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