(Bloomberg) — The first person diagnosed with Ebola in the U.K., a Scottish nurse who returned from helping to fight the virus in Sierra Leone, is receiving specialist treatment at a London hospital prepared to handle infectious-disease cases.
The nurse, 39-year-old Pauline Cafferkey, was hospitalized in Glasgow and then flown to an isolation unit at the Royal Free Hospital, according to a statement from the hospital. While health officials are gathering airline passenger lists and seeking anyone the nurse may have come in contact with, they said it’s unlikely that others have been infected.
She “did not experience any symptoms consistent with the transmission of Ebola, and as such, the risk that this infection will have been passed from the affected individual to others is extremely unlikely,” Paul Cosford, director for health protection and medical director of Public Health England, said in a statement.
Cafferkey is a National Health Service nurse who was helping to fight the Ebola outbreak at a treatment center run by Save the Children in Kerry Town, Sierra Leone, according to the medical aid charity. She arrived in Scotland late Dec. 28 and after feeling unwell was placed in isolation at Gartnavel General Hospital. She was in stable condition before being transported to London, according to First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, the head of Scotland’s government.
Cafferkey flew to London’s Heathrow airport via Casablanca, Morocco, on Royal Air Maroc, then on to Glasgow on a British Airways flight, according to the government.
The nurse was cleared for flying from Heathrow even after she complained of feeling feverish.
On a standard initial check, she “did not have a raised temperature” and no symptoms, Cosford told reporters. While waiting for her flight, she returned for another look because she thought her temperature had risen. She was checked an additional six times, with no indication of fever.
She flew from Freetown to Casablanca on Flight AT596, and from Casablanca to London on Flight AT0800. The London-to- Glasgow flight was BA1478.
The nurse had no symptoms when she flew from Casablanca to London, Taoufik Skalli, Royal Air Maroc’s chief operating officer, said in an interview. The airline screens passengers for fever using infrared cameras and has medical kits on board to contain risk in case a passenger shows symptoms, Skalli said.
People coming from West African countries affected by Ebola are identified for screening at Heathrow even if they have changed flights on their journey, according to the U.K. Home Office.
Public Health England is arranging for all passengers and crew on the flight from Casablanca to Heathrow to be provided with information and will be contacting and following up with those passengers who sat near the nurse, the agency said in a statement. Health Protection Scotland is carrying out a similar exercise for the passengers on the Heathrow-to-Glasgow flight.
There were more than 70 passengers and crew on the flight to Glasgow. As of early afternoon, most people had been spoken to or sent a message, including all travelers who sat near the infected woman, Sturgeon told reporters. A precise number of passengers on the previous flight wasn’t immediately available.
Passengers who sat near the nurse have been asked to monitor their temperatures until Jan. 18, a step Cosford called “highly precautionary.”
Sally Davies, England’s chief medical officer, has said that the U.K. should expect a handful of cases, given the number of aid workers helping in the Ebola crisis. “We still need every single one of them out there helping to get on top of this epidemic,” she said today.
Ebola is transmitted by contact with bodily fluids of a person infected who has also developed symptoms. The interval from infection to the onset of symptoms, or incubation period, is 2 to 21 days, according to World Health Organization guidelines. The virus isn’t passed through the air.
More than 2,200 people have returned to the U.K. from Ebola-affected countries, Cosford said. “Risk to the public remains very low.”