Ebola volunteers who do not show symptoms of the disease, but report feeling unwell upon returning to England, will now be isolated under strengthened airport screening procedures, the health secretary has confirmed.
The minister said protocols had been reviewed after a UK nurse who contracted ebola was cleared for a connecting flight at Heathrow Airport when she did not test positive for the virus, despite raising concerns about a high temperature.
Speaking in the House of Commons yesterday, health secretary Jeremy Hunt also confirmed that the nurse, Pauline Cafferkey, remained in critical condition but had now “stabilised”.
“Anyone from a higher risk group who feels unwell will be re-assessed [and] advice will be immediately sought from an infectious disease specialist”
He said that anyone returning from affected countries in West Africa and in a “higher risk” group such as Ms Cafferkey – those who have had direct contact with ebola patients – would now be isolated and re-assesed if they said they felt ill.
“We have, as of last Monday, strengthened our guidance to ensure that anyone from a higher risk group who feels unwell will be re-assessed, advice will be immediately sought from an infectious disease specialist and the passenger will be referred for testing if appropriate,” he told MPs.
He added: “Even if someone isn’t displaying symptoms, but says they are feeling under the weather, then we would isolate them if they are in the higher risk category.”
The health secretary also confirmed that an improved test for assessing ebola faster was being developed “as quickly as possible”.
Ms Cafferkey returned to England on 28 December after volunteering with charity Save the Children in Sierra Leone over the Christmas period.
On arrival at Heathrow Airport her temperature was tested several times when she explained he had felt unwell, but she was able to board a connecting a flight to Glasgow after airport officials found she did not have a fever.
Mr Hunt paid tribute to Ms Cafferkey – who is now being cared for at the Royal Free London NHS Foundation Trust – saying she stood for the “very best of NHS values”.
“She should know today that the whole country is proud of her for her bravery and dedication to the service of others. She stands quite simply for the very best of NHS values,” he said.