Ebola: a virologist’s expert view

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By Martin Herrema

University virologist Dr Jeremy Rossman says it is currently unlikely that any isolated Ebola virus outbreaks in the UK would spread. But he has warned that the situation could change if the ‘exponential’ spread of the disease in West Africa is not halted soon.

He commented: ‘The situation in West Africa continues to worsen as the largest Ebola virus outbreak continues to spread. Over 8000 people have been infected and there are now isolated cases in the USA and Europe. Current trends show an exponential increase in cases, with almost 35% of the new cases arising in the past 21 days. In Sierra Leone it is estimated that there are five new cases every hour. Despite the efforts of many countries, resources and experienced medical practitioners are in short supply. Without additional resources it will be extremely difficult to stem the spread of the disease.

‘Despite the dire situation, there is still only limited cause for concern within the UK. There is heightened security and screening intended to keep infected people from leaving the Ebola region and the NHS has prepared treatment and quarantine facilities in the event that a case does arise in the UK. Unfortunately, Ebola has a long incubation period which means that an infected person may pass all screening tests before becoming sick.

‘As a result, it is not possible to completely prevent Ebola-infected individuals from entering the county, as was recently seen in the USA. However, hospitals and clinicians have been trained to recognize Ebola and to initiate preventive quarantine and disease surveillance. Even if an isolated outbreak did occur in the UK, it is unlikely that the disease would spread, given the current health care system and our available resources. However, this situation could change if the exponential spread of Ebola virus in West Africa is not halted soon.’

View Dr Rossman’s YouTube video on this subject here.

Dr Rossman is a Lecturer in Virology within the School of Biosciences.

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