Six reasons why it's not time to panic about Ebola in the UK

Adam Withnall@adamwithnall
Wednesday 30 July 2014 20:10

The world is experiencing its worst ever outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus, and it’s been called everything from a "threat" to the most "acute health emergency" facing Britain.

That’s fairly scary stuff – but while it’s worth bearing in mind the disease has killed more than 670 people in West Africa, here are six reasons why we shouldn't be panicking just yet in the UK.

1. Ebola has never come to the UK before

There have actually been seasonal outbreaks of Ebola since 1976 – and only once has a single case ever made it to Europe (and it was Switzerland at that).

2. People are being checked before boarding planes from West Africa

The World Health Organisation is on the case – and Public Health England (PHE) alone will have sent five experts out there to coordinate checking systems by the end of this week.

3. Even if someone gets on a plane to Britain with Ebola, they probably won’t pass it on

"This is not on the same scale of risk as pandemic flu – you can’t catch it just sitting next to someone on a plane", says PHE's Dr Brian McCloskey. The way you’d catch it is if a carrier vomited on you or you used the plane toilet after they had left it very dirty. And you’d probably notice in either case.

4. Worst case scenario – it won’t get very far

Even in the "very unlikely" case that several people caught the virus on a plane, the UK is "well prepared" and the NHS is "very capable" at dealing with suspected infections, says Professor David Heymann, head of Chatham House’s Centre on Global Health Security (and chair of Public Health England).

Doctors and border officials are also on the look-out for people getting fevers after arriving from West Africa, and the experts say we are very good at getting people to hospital quickly when this happens.

5. We won’t have an outbreak like Sierra Leone

"It would be contained before ever reaching a ‘third generation’", says Dr McCloskey – meaning that the virus would not get out into the wider community.

And we won’t have hospital transmission, says Professor Heymann, because "we have good hospitals".

6. We're on the case

“We are watching out for Ebola,” Professor Heymann says. "The UK and other EU countries are on constant alert, and many exercises are carried out to know what to do if Ebola does emerge.

"The UK has prepared for this scenario –from the Prime Minister right down to local authorities."

More: How worried should we be about the spread of Ebola?More: What is Ebola?