Pauline Cafferkey: Ebola nurse ‘as well as expected’

A nurse who volunteered to help in the fight against Ebola is “doing as well as can be expected” after being diagnosed with the deadly virus on her return to Glasgow from Sierra Leone.

Pauline Cafferkey.

Pauline Cafferkey, a public health nurse at Blantyre Health Centre in South Lanarkshire, is receiving specialist treatment at the Royal Free Hospital in north London.

The 39-year-old was placed in isolation at a Glasgow hospital early yesterday morning after feeling feverish, before being transferred south on a military-style plane in a quarantine tent.

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Efforts are ongoing to trace passengers on the flights Mrs Cafferkey took back to the UK via Casablanca in Morocco and London Heathrow, arriving at Glasgow Airport at about 11.30pm on Sunday on a British Airways flight.

The nurse was part of a 30-strong team of medical volunteers deployed to Africa by the UK Government last month.

In a statement confirming her identity, the Royal Free Hospital said: “Ms Cafferkey has asked that her privacy is respected.”

Colleague Dr Martin Deahl, who sat next to her on the flight to Heathrow as they returned from five weeks in Sierra Leone, has criticised the ‘’disorganised’’ procedures in place for testing returning health workers.

At a briefing in Glasgow, Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon stressed that the risk to the public was “negligible”.

She said: “The latest update we have on the condition of the patient is that she is doing as well as can be expected in the circumstances.”

Health Protection Scotland has made contact with 63 out of 70 passengers on the flight from Heathrow to Glasgow.

One person who had contact with the patient but was not on the flight has also been contacted and efforts are continuing in relation to the remaining seven.

Five of the eight people in closest proximity to Mrs Cafferkey on the plane have been reached, with messages left for the other three.

It was confirmed today that two other people who have been in West Africa are being tested for Ebola - one in Aberdeen and one in Cornwall.

The “low risk” Scottish patient is a female healthcare worker who is not thought to have had any direct contact with people infected with Ebola but became unwell following her recent return from a country with an outbreak.

She had been staying at a youth hostel in the Highlands and is expected to arrive at Aberdeen Royal Infirmary this evening for tests, the results of which are expected this evening. Her condition is described as stable.

Ms Sturgeon said: “While we have to be cautious and we cannot rule anything out, there is no great expectation at this stage that we’re looking at another likely positive case.”

She added: “The risk to any other person, including the other passengers on the flights in question in terms of the case that’s been confirmed as positive, is extremely low. I used the word negligible last night and that continues to be a word I would use today.

“The risks to the wider public are extremely negligible. Clearly given the nature of this disease we act on a highly precautionary basis.”

The Cornish patient has been placed in isolation at the Royal Cornwall Hospital in Treliske, Truro.

It is understood the patient, who attended the hospital this morning, recently returned from a country affected by an outbreak of the virus.

In a joint statement, the hospital and Public Health England said: “A patient has been admitted to Royal Cornwall Hospital and is currently undergoing a series of tests - one of which is for Ebola.

“We do not expect the results to be known for at least 24 hours and in the meantime the patient is being looked after in isolation, following nationally-agreed guidelines and protocols to protect the health of our staff and other patients.”

Mrs Cafferkey, from Glasgow, had been working with Save the Children at the Ebola Treatment Centre in Kerry Town, Sierra Leone.

She wrote movingly about her experiences in a diary for the Scotsman newspaper, describing how she had to tell a young boy his mother had died from the virus. His father and sister also died from Ebola, she discovered.

“The sad thing is that this is a regular occurrence and we see and hear of whole families being wiped out by this awful disease,” she wrote.

Dr Deahl told Sky News he would “bet anything” that his colleague had caught the virus in the community and not at the treatment centre where she had worked.

Mrs Cafferkey is the second Briton to test positive and the first to do so on UK soil after nurse William Pooley, 29, contracted Ebola while volunteering in Sierra Leone in August before getting the all-clear following treatment at the Royal Free Hospital.

About 100 people have been tested for the virus in hospitals across England this year, most of whom had visited West Africa.

Enhanced screening was rolled out at some UK airports in October, including Heathrow, with passengers having their temperature taken and completing a questionnaire asking about their current health, recent travel history and whether they had contact with Ebola patients.

Last month, official figures showed 931 people had been assessed in the weeks since the measures were introduced at Heathrow, Gatwick, Birmingham and Manchester airports, plus London St Pancras Eurostar railway station.

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt, who chaired a meeting of the Whitehall Cobra contingencies committee in London yesterday, insisted the measures are working well but said there would be a review of the “procedures and protocols” adopted by NHS workers and other government staff working in Sierra Leone.

The World Health Organisation said there have been 19,497 reported cases of Ebola, with 7,588 reported deaths. Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea have been the worst affected countries.