Ebola planning continues in Northern Ireland

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Thursday, October 9th, 2014
The Public Health Agency (PHA) is continuing to work with Health and Social Care and government colleagues in Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK to ensure we are prepared for the risk of Ebola. Ebola virus disease (EVD), formerly known as Ebola haemorrhagic fever, is a rare but severe disease caused by the Ebola virus. There is no change to the current risk assessment, in that the risk to the public in Northern Ireland is very low. The likelihood of an individual contracting Ebola is extremely low unless they have been exposed directly to blood or body fluids of symptomatic people or animals, or infected objects. It is important to note that EVD is not an airborne illness. The UK contingency plans for Ebola have always been based on the assumption that there is a low, but nevertheless real, risk of importing a case of Ebola from West Africa. However, it is important to remember that even if a case is identified in the UK, there are robust, well-developed and well-tested systems in place for managing unusual infectious diseases. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that the affected countries should conduct exit screening for individuals with unexplained illness consistent with potential Ebola infection. WHO also recommends that Ebola cases or contacts should not undertake international travel, unless the travel is part of an appropriate medical evacuation. However, entry screening in the UK is not recommended by WHO. There are no plans to introduce entry screening for Ebola in the UK. Dr Lorraine Doherty, Assistant Director of Public Health (Health Protection) at the Public Health Agency, said, “Although the risk to the public in Northern Ireland is very low, there is a potential risk for volunteers and healthcare staff working in affected countries, especially if involved in caring for Ebola patients. “However, if the basic precautions that would apply in all humanitarian situations are applied and the general principles of infection control are adhered to, the risk can be minimised. “If you have travelled and stayed in the areas where Ebola cases have been recently reported, and you become ill within 21 days of returning home (fever, headache, achiness, sore throat, diarrhoea, vomiting, stomach pain, rash, or red eyes), seek medical attention as soon as possible and mention your travel history. “As part of contingency preparations, the PHA has provided primary care and hospital healthcare workers with the latest information about the outbreak and actions to take in the event of a possible case,” she continued. “It is important to remember that for Ebola to be transmitted from one person to another contact with blood or other body fluids are needed. As such, if Northern Ireland was to see a case of Ebola this will not result in an outbreak here. Dr Doherty added, “The PHA is working with partner HSC organisations to ensure we have appropriate systems in place in the unlikely event that a case presents in Northern Ireland. The overall risk of Ebola in Northern Ireland remains low.”
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