William Pooley: British Ebola nurse returns to Sierra Leone

william pooley

Pooley says it was an 'easy decision' to make, while Liberian president warns of 'a lost generation of Africans'

LAST UPDATED AT 11:19 ON Mon 20 Oct 2014

William Pooley, the British nurse who recovered from the Ebola virus has returned to work in West Africa.

The 29-year old, thought to be the first Briton to be infected with the disease, contracted Ebola while working as a health care volunteer in Sierra Leone. He was flown back to the UK, where he was quarantined and received the experimental drug zMapp and later made a full recovery. 

Pooley said returning to work in a region where over 4,500 people have died from the disease was an "easy decision" to make.

He has said he could not stand "idly by" while more people died. "I chose to go before and it was the right thing to do then and it’s still the right thing to do now," he told The Guardian.

It is still unclear whether or not Pooley is immune to the virus or how long it could last. "They have told me I very likely have immunity, at least for the near future, to this strain of Ebola," he said. "I have also been told it's a possibility that I don't, so I will just have to act as if I don't."

Pooley will join a team of British health care workers from King's College London and three NHS trusts working at a hospital in the capital Freetown.

He urged the West to direct more attention to the heart of the outbreak in West Africa. "The risk of a really damaging outbreak here [in the UK] is negligible. There's an absolute catastrophe happening in another part of the world," he said. "That should be our focus."

In other developments: 
  • Liberian president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has warned that a generation of Africans were at risk of being lost to the disease, adding that the whole world has a stake in the fight against Ebola.
  • Nigeria has been officially declared Ebola-free, six weeks after the last infection was reported. The successful containment of the virus was due to early detection, a co-ordinated response from government healthcare workers and quick and effective contact tracing.
  • The Spanish nurse who was the first person to contract Ebola outside of Africa has now recovered from the disease, according to the Spanish government.

Ebola virus factfile

What is the Ebola virus and what are the symptoms?

The World Health Organisation describes Ebola as "a severe acute viral illness". Early symptoms are similar to malaria and include the sudden onset of fever, intense weakness, muscle pain, diarrhoea, vomiting and both internal and external bleeding. There are five known strains of the virus, the one currently spreading across West Africa is known as the Zaire Ebola virus and is one of the most dangerous. Patients who do not survive the disease most often die from blood loss, organ failure or shock.

Where did it come from?

Scientists believe it was initially present in wild animals such as fruit bats living in tropical rainforests in equatorial Africa. The disease spread to humans when they came into contact with the organs, blood or other bodily fluids from infected animals through hunting.

How is it spread?

Ebola is highly infectious. It can be transmitted through contact with the blood, bodily fluids and organs, including skin, of sufferers or through indirect contact with environments contaminated by the disease. The disease can also have a long incubation period, up to three weeks, which allows it to spread rapidly before diagnosis and quarantine can take place.

Is there a cure?

There is no known cure or vaccine for the virus and the disease kills between 25 and 90 per cent of its victims. The fatality rate of the current strain appears to be roughly 70 per cent, according to the latest WHO figures. The only routine treatment doctors can currently offer is palliative care such as rehydration and pain relief.

However, there are various experimental treatments and vaccines currently in development, most notably the zMapp drug which has been given to several healthcare workers who have contracted the disease. It's effectiveness and long-term safety is yet unknown.

What happens to people who survive the disease?

"There is strong epidemiological evidence that once an individual has resolved an Ebola virus infection, they are immune to that strain," according to Dr Bruce Ribner, director of the infectious disease unit at Emory University Hospital in the US. Doctors believe that the antibodies present in a patient's blood could protect them from that virus, but warn they would still be susceptible to other strains.

Ebola: new vaccine will be 'too late' for current epidemic

17 October 

An Ebola vaccine currently undergoing safety testing will not be ready in time to combat the current outbreak, according to the pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline.

Dr Ripley Ballou, head of GSK's Ebola vaccine research has said that the safety and efficacy of the drug will not be established before the end of 2015. Two other vaccines are also currently in development.

Experts fear that the only way to contain this outbreak is with a safe and effective vaccine as the scale of the epidemic now means that traditional methods of containment will no longer work.

Over 9,000 people are now known to be infected with the virus and more than half have died, according to the latest figures from the World Health Organization (WHO). But the virus is spreading exponentially and the WHO has predicted that there could soon be 10,000 new cases a week.

Professor Peter Piot, the director of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine who discovered Ebola in 1976, warned that outbreak could last well into next year.

"Then only a vaccine can stop it, but we still have to prove that this vaccine protects, we don't know that for sure," he told the BBC.

In other developments:

  • The WHO has warned that 15 countries, neighbouring or trading with the three countries at the heart of the outbreak, face a real risk of the disease spreading across their borders. These include Ivory Coast, Ghana, Mali and the Central African Republic. "It could lead to major destabilisation of societies and also political destabilisation," Piot told The Guardian.
  • President Barack Obama is facing mounting pressure from Republicans to ban all incoming flights from Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone. He says he remains open to issuing travel bans, but only if recommended by public health experts.
  • David Cameron has urged European leaders to implement enhanced screening at airports, introducing measures like those in place at Heathrow airport, which will be extended to Gatwick and Eurostar terminal next week.

Ebola: Obama orders 'Swat team' response to outbreak

16 October

President Barack Obama has outlined enhanced measures to combat an Ebola outbreak in the US, including dispatching rapid response teams to hospitals.

Speaking after heading an emergency meeting in Washington, Obama promised "much more aggressive" monitoring of Ebola cases in the US.

He has also cancelled immediate travel plans in order to oversee the government's response to the Ebola crisis. This comes after a second nurse, Amber Joy Vinson, tested positive for the disease in Texas.

The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has been instructed to send 'Swat-teams' of experts to hospitals that report an infection within 24-hours, USA Today reports. Obama said that hospitals across the country were on stand-by for further cases and that an investigation into how the virus spread in Texas was ongoing.

Obama yesterday took part in a conference call with David Cameron and the leaders of France, Germany and Italy on how to respond to the crisis.

But despite the concerns, Obama continues to downplay the risk of an outbreak in the US, saying the chance of non-healthcare workers contracting the virus is currently "extremely low."

"I am absolutely confident that we can prevent a serious outbreak of the disease here in the United States," he said. "But it becomes more difficult to do so if this epidemic of Ebola rages out of control in West Africa. If it does, it will spread globally."

Over 4,500 people have now died from the outbreak in West Africa.

In other developments:
  • The CDC has come under intense criticism following allegations that Vinson informed them that she had a symptom of the virus, yet was allowed to board a plane and travel across the country. The CDC is now trying to contact all 132 people on board her flight.
  • The UN has warned that the West African region affected by Ebola is facing an impending food crisis as farmers abandon their crops and the movement of goods remains restricted.
  • The campaign group Avaaz says it has identified over 3,000 volunteers, including doctors and other health care workers, who are willing to travel to West Africa to help fight the outbreak.

Ebola remains 'out of control'  with death toll rising to 4,447

15 October

An end to Ebola in Nigeria and Senegal looks near, but elsewhere the outbreak remains "out of control", the World Health Organisation has warned.

New cases in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone "continue to explode in areas that looked like they were coming under control", said the United Nations agency.

The estimated death toll, which multiplies confirmed cases to take into account under-reporting, currently stands at 4,447, reports the BBC.

Bruce Aylward, WHO's assistant director-general, has warned there could be up to 10,000 new cases a week within two months in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone if efforts are not stepped up.

"An unusual characteristic of this epidemic is a persistent cyclical pattern of gradual dips in the number of new cases, followed by sudden flare-ups," the agency said in a statement. "WHO epidemiologists see no signs that the outbreaks in any of these three countries are coming under control."

Yesterday, Barack Obama said that "the world as a whole is not doing enough" to contain the Ebola threat. He will be discussing the crisis in a video conference later today with British, French, German and Italian leaders.

Nevertheless, WHO said it will declare the end of the outbreak in Senegal on Friday and in Nigeria on Monday so long as no new cases arise. In what the agency describes as a "piece of world-class epidemiological detective work", all confirmed cases in Nigeria have been linked back to a Liberian air traveller who introduced the virus into the country on 20 July.

Passengers arriving at Heathrow airport from countries affected by the disease are beginning to be screened by health officials. Passengers have had their temperatures taken and been asked to fill in health forms, which include questions about the traveller's temperature and whether or not they have come into contact with anyone who has died of unknown causes.

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