A QUARANTINE system for health workers returning from West Africa should be set up if recommended by the government’s chief medical officer, David Cameron said yesterday.
The condition of Fife nurse Pauline Cafferkey remained critical yesterday. The 39-year-old is being treated in isolation at the Royal Free Hospital in north London after being diagnosed with Ebola.
The public health nurse, who works at Blantyre Health Centre in South Lanarkshire, was part of a 30-strong team of medical volunteers sent to Sierra Leone by the UK government in November to work with Save the Children at the Ebola Treatment Centre in Kerry Town.
After returning to Heathrow Airport last Sunday she raised concerns about her temperature, but despite undergoing seven temperature checks she was given the all-clear to fly to Glasgow where she lives.
The following morning she was diagnosed with Ebola and placed in isolation at Gartnavel Hospital campus in Glasgow before being flown south. After her diagnosis prompted debate over the UK screening procedures for Ebola, Mr Cameron said yesterday he was listening to medical experts about whether a system of quarantine should be put in place for health workers coming back to Britain.
Asked if airport screening is failing, he said on BBC1’s Andrew Marr Show: “Her temperature was taken several times but then she was allowed to go on and travel to Scotland and what I have said very clearly is we should have a precautionary principle in place. If you are still in doubt, if there’s uncertainty, there’s proper arrangements for you to go to the Northwick Park Hospital in Middlesex to be observed and to have further tests there before going further.
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“That is happening already, I am absolutely clear about that.”
Mr Cameron went on: “If we need to change further, if the chief medical officer says we need a system of quarantine or anything like that, then we should put that in place.
“But it is important to listen to the medical experts and then make the decision.”
The UK Government’s chief medical officer, Dame Sally Davies, acknowledged last week that questions had been raised about the airport screening procedure for Ebola. Ms Cafferkey’s worsening condition came after her doctor described her as sitting up, eating, drinking and communicating with her family on New Year’s Day.
Dr Michael Jacobs warned she faced a “critical” few days while she was treated with blood from a survivor and an experimental antiviral drug which is “not proven to work”. But on Saturday, the hospital announced her condition has “gradually deteriorated” and she was “critical”.
Yesterday, the hospital issued a brief statement to reassure other patients and visitors that there was no risk to them. Ms 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 after treatment at the Royal Free.
The hospital, where Mrs Cafferkey has been treated since Tuesday, was unable to obtain ZMapp, the drug used to treat Mr Pooley, because “there is none in the world at the moment”.
Dr Martin Wiselka, a consultant in infectious diseases at Spire Leicester Hospital, said one of the risks faced by Ms Cafferkey as she receives treatment is organ failure. He said: “Another of the things that happens is your blood clotting becomes difficult. It’s potentially survivable. It is a matter of keeping the patient alive long enough for them to develop some immunity. The next few days are critical.”
Asked about the effectiveness of existing screening procdures, he added: “The measures are never going to be one hundred per cent perfect. But until you have got a high temperature you are not going to be infectious.”
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