THE nurse who remains critically ill in hospital with Ebola should be commended for her “quiet heroism,” Scotland’s First Minister has said.
Nicola Sturgeon said that while Scotland was “well prepared” to deal with the virus, the country was “likely” to see a “small number of additional cases.”
Ms Cafferkey, who worked with Save the Children in Sierra Leone, continues to undergo treatment in isolation at London’s Royal Free Hospital, where she is receiving an experimental anti-viral drug.
The 39-year-old was diagnosed with the virus on her return to Scotland, despite having her temperature tested seven times in Heathrow, where she complained of having a high temperature.
• University of Oxford trialling Ebola vaccine
Ms Sturgeon paid tribute Ms Cafferkey, who works at Blantyre health centre, stating that the government was “deeply grateful” for the “quiet heroism” of the public health nurse and others like her “who make all of us safer by placing themselves at risk.”
She said: “They are not simply helping people in west Africa, although they are certainly doing that, they are also helping people right around the world.
“We owe it to them, as well as to the wider public, to ensure that the measures we are taking to tackle Ebola here in Scotland are as good as they can be.”
Addressing MSPs at Holyrood this afternoon, Ms Sturgeon said that officials from Health Protection Scotland are working alongside their counterparts at Public Health England to review the UK’s screening procedures for Ebola.
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Stressing that the risk to the public posed by Ebola continues to be “very low,” she said: “We will keep all of the procedures under review. It is important that we learn lessons from the case of Pauline Cafferkey and that we learn lessons from any other case that might arise.
“I hope there are no other cases identified in Scotland or the UK but it is likely we will see other cases, a small number of additional cases, and we need to keep learning from the experience of dealing with them.”
Ms Sturgeon said it was “understandable” that questions had been asked about the protocol which allowed Ms Cafferkey to take a connecting flight to Scotland via Heathrow, but said measures had been reassessed.
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She added: “Protocols at airports have already been revised in light of this case, the guidance has been strengthened to ensure that anyone from a higher risk group who feels unwell will be reassessed - advice will also be sought immediately from an infectious diseases specialist, and the passenger referred on for testing if that is considered appropriate.”
Procedures will be reviewed again in coming days to assess the “effectiveness” of these changes, Ms Sturgeon said.
During her statement to Holyrood, Ms Sturgeon said Scotland had “well tested” NHS systems in place for managing unusual infectious diseases, including three regional units for the management of possible or confirmed cases of Ebola.
As of the beginning of December, a new testing system for Ebola has also been put in place, with samples sent to a facility managed by NHS Lothian instead of being sent to Wiltshire, a change that allowed results to be established “much more rapidly,” according to Ms Sturgeon.
An NHS 24 helpline set up within two hours of Ms Cafferkey’s diagnosis was closed yesterday evening. The helpline had fielded 179 calls from members of the public, but received just three calls since Hogmanay. The helpline can be “reactivated very quickly” should the need arise in the future, Ms Sturgeon said.
Meanwhile, work began today on the first safety trial of an experimental preventative Ebola vaccine got underway at the Oxford Vaccine Group, part of the University of Oxford Department of Paediatrics.
Developers of the drug, the Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies of Johnson & Johnson, have accelerated it due to the continued spread of Ebola in West Africa.
Pre-clinical studies have demonstrated that, given two months apart, the drug can provide complete protection from death due to the Kikwit Zaire strain of Ebola, which is similar to the virus causing the current outbreak.
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