CRISIS talks were held by the Government’s emergency committee today, after doctors in the UK were put on alert to look out for symptoms of the deadly Ebola virus.
The epidemic has already killed more than 670 people as it spreads through West Africa.
Prime Minister David Cameron said he regarded the outbreak as “a very serious threat”, as Public Health England (PHE) has warned health officials to be on the look out for any unexplained illness in people returning from the affected countries.
After he chaired a meeting of Cobra emergencies committee regarding the epidemic yesterday, Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said the possibility of people contracting the deadly virus in West Africa and falling sick in the UK was being contemplated by health officials.
But he said it was “most unlikely” that Ebola could spread within the UK because of “frankly different” standards of infection control in this country.
Mr Hammond said: “We need to just keep this in context - it’s a horrible disease and this is a significant outbreak but the current number of people affected, spread across three countries, is containable at the moment.” he said.
The Department of Health has confirmed that two people have been assessed for the virus in Britain after presenting in hospitals in Birmingham and London.
There is no vaccine or cure for the disease, which has been hailed as one of the deadliest and most virulent in the world by the World Health Organisation (WHO).
Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said Britain had expertise in the NHS and extensive experience dealing with dangerous diseases through the work of hospitals such as the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.
“The risk of this disease spreading fast is much lower in the UK because of that expertise so we are taking precautionary measures,” he said. “We are looking at our capability but we are very confident that we have very good people in the NHS, very experienced people, who will be ready to deal with anything if it were to arrive in the UK.”
Fears had been raised that disease could spread to the UK, after it emerged that two people have been assessed for the virus in Britain.
Tests on a man in Birmingham who had travelled from Benin in Nigeria proved negative, a Department of Health spokeswoman said.
Doctors at Charing Cross Hospital in west London ruled out testing a second man for the deadly disease.
Public Health England (PHE) has warned health officials to be on the look out for any unexplained illness in people returning from the affected countries.
Dr Brian McCloskey, director of global health at PHE, said although is was clear the outbreak “is not under control”, and the risk to UK travellers in these countries is very low, UK doctors should remain vigilant.
A Department of Health spokeswoman said the country was “well-prepared to identify and deal with any potential cases of Ebola.”
She said: “Any patients with suspected symptoms can be diagnosed within 24 hours and they would also be isolated at a dedicated unit to keep the public safe. Our specialist staff are also working with the World Health Organisation to help tackle the outbreak in Africa.”
The outbreak has so far centred on Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea, but concerns have been raised after the densely populated country of Nigeria reported what is thought to be its first death from the disease on Friday, an American man whose sister also died of the disease.
Health workers tackling the outbreak in the region have been especially vulnerable to contracting the disease.
Dr Sheik Humarr Khan, who had been hailed as a national hero for his work treating patients with Ebola in Sierra Leone, died on Tuesday after being quarantined in hospital in the country.