Screening will fail to stop Ebola entering UK

PASSENGERS infected with Ebola could still enter the UK through airports despite screening, according to a study.

PASSENGERS infected with Ebola could still enter the UK through airports despite screening, according to a study.

A specialist team from the University of Liverpool’s Institute of Infection and Global Health used a mathematical model to assess the likelihood of someone with the virus slipping through the safety net.

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They found that although screening for Ebola at airports could be an effective method for preventing the spread of the disease into the UK and US, the long incubation period of the virus means it would not be able to detect all cases.

The research showed that approximately 29 Ebola-infected people are expected to try to leave West Africa by the end of the year but only ten would be likely to display signs of the infection that could be picked up by airport screening.

Of the remaining 19 passengers, only one or two would be expected to fly to the UK and up to three to the US.

It is thought that one of these passengers would have developed virus symptoms by the time they arrive in the UK or USA.

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Epidemiologist Dr Jonathan Read said: “We developed a mathematical model to consider how long people incubate the virus alongside how likely airline passengers are to be infected.

“From this, we were able to estimate that ten of the 29 people likely to leave West Africa via airports this year would have symptoms of the disease and so could be detected at exit-screening.”

The model showed that one or two passengers may not be detected at screening.

But despite the prospect of an Ebola-infected passenger coming in through a UK airport, the team said a single case here would not lead to the situation in West Africa, due to better control measures.

The research, published in the Lancet medical journal, highlighted that the most effective way to restrict the virus’s global spread is to control it at source in West Africa.

Professor Tom Solomon, head of the Institute of Infection and Global Health, said: “This research shows that entry screening can reduce the overall chances of Ebola being brought into the UK, but that some infected passengers may still get through undetected.

“Even if we do see a case of Ebola that has not been detected at airport screening, we have a good chance of stopping the spread of the infection.”

Last month, Edinburgh and Glasgow airports carried out training exercises to test emergency procedures for dealing with passengers with Ebola.

The move came as Heathrow report began screening passengers from West Africa, which was also rolled-out to Eurostar and Gatwick, Manchester and Birmingham airports.

Meanwhile, the United Nations mission in Mali has cancelled plans to renew a contract with a private clinic providing care to its peacekeepers after a case of Ebola spread from there.

This second Ebola alarm in Mali, coming just as it seemed to have contained its first case last month, raised doubts about the country’s ability to protect itself from the epidemic ravaging three other states in West Africa.

More than 5,000 people have died to date, almost all in Liberia, Sierra Leone and in Guinea, which shares an 500-mile border with Mali.

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