herald

Tuesday 24 October 2017

Experts divided on whether disease will strike in Ireland

FEAR: Virus threat still very real, especially from air travellers

Ebola has already claimed more than 3,400 lives in Africa and one in the US
Ebola has already claimed more than 3,400 lives in Africa and one in the US

If a case of Ebola does arrive in Ireland, it will come directly from Africa - and the chances of that happening here cannot be ruled out, a leading virus expert has said.

Dr Derek Gatherer's comments come as the World Health Organisation (WHO) said yesterday that Europe will most certainly see more cases of Ebola after a Spanish national was confirmed this week as having the virus.

"I would say that if a case does turn up in Ireland it will come directly from Africa, not from the UK," said Dr Gatherer, an expert in viruses from Lancaster University.

Commenting on the recent study that there is a 50pc chance that Ebola could hit Britain by October 24, he said that figure can now be reduced.

However, the possibility of a virus outbreak in the UK or Ireland can still not be ruled out.

"The airline study was done by Northeastern University in Boston and made the assumption that Nigeria would by now be exporting Ebola cases," said Dr Gatherer.

"Since the Nigerians have managed to succeed in eliminating the virus from their country - just about the only good news we have from West Africa - and Nigeria-UK connections were the main reason for the 50pc estimate, we can downgrade that figure.

"However, it doesn't downgrade to zero, so we still have to be prepared."

He likened the possibility of an outbreak here to a rain shower happening - it either will or it will not occur because there is no in-between.

"It's rather like one of these weather forecasts where they say that there is a '35pc chance of precipitation'," said Dr Gatherer. The actual figure doesn't matter, either it will rain or it won't."

Irish doctor Gabriel Fitzpatrick, who went to Sierra Leone last July to help with the virus outbreak, said the likelihood of Ebola coming to Ireland was very small.

"The chance of a case of Ebola arriving in Ireland remains extremely small at present," Dr Fitzpatrick of Medicins San Frontiers (MSF) told the Herald.

"The best way of protecting Ireland and Europe against the virus is to control the outbreak at its source in West Africa."

He said that while some wealthy nations are helping out in this regard, not enough is being done.

"Some countries are beginning to do this, but more need to do so," said Dr Fitzpatrick.

Last month he returned home to his family after working in Sierra Leona.

DEVASTATING

"Ebola is a devastating disease which I have witnessed causing terrible human suffering," he added.

The current outbreak, which started last February in Guinea, West Africa, is the most severe one in the world's history.

The current death toll from the virus is more than 3,400 with 7,000 confirmed cases.

Last Monday, the first case of Ebola in Europe was confirmed when Spanish nurse Teresa Romero was diagnosed as having contracted the disease.

A spokesman for the HSE said that Ireland was fully-equipped to diagnose a case in the unlikely event of Ebola arriving here.

The disease is transmitted only via bodily fluids - any bodily fluid.

The virus, which is spread by fruit bats which are native to Africa, is not airborne and has an up to 90pc fatality rate.

jfegan@herald.ie

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