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First Ebola patient diagnosed in U.K. in critical condition

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(Bloomberg) — A British nurse diagnosed with Ebola is in critical condition at a London hospital after receiving blood plasma treatment and taking an experimental drug.

The condition of Pauline Cafferkey, a Scottish nurse who returned from helping to fight the virus in Sierra Leone, gradually deteriorated over the past two days, the Royal Free Hospital said in statement on its website today. She had been sitting up in bed, talking and reading on Dec. 31 and had decided to take an anti-viral drug.

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 charity. More than 20,000 people have been infected in the world’s worst-ever Ebola outbreak, mostly in three African countries, according to the World Health Organization. Almost 8,000 have died. Medical workers in the U.S. and Spain have also been infected after caring for victims.

“My thoughts and prayers are with nurse Pauline Cafferkey,” U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron said today in a Twitter posting.

Cafferkey arrived in Scotland late Dec. 28 and after feeling unwell was placed in isolation at Gartnavel General Hospital, before being moved to London. Health officials have said it’s unlikely that others were infected. Michael Jacobs, infectious diseases consultant at the London hospital, said in a Dec. 31 statement that the next few days would be crucial for Cafferkey. The disease has a variable course, he said at the time.

Disease transmission

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 WHO guidelines. The virus isn’t passed through the air.

Anyone who develops symptoms characteristic of Ebola within 21 days of returning from Liberia, Sierra Leone or Guinea should stay at home and phone emergency services to say they may have come into contact with someone with Ebola, according to the U.K. government. Symptoms include fever, chills, muscle aches, headache, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, sore throat and rash.

Cafferkey flew to London’s Heathrow airport via Casablanca, Morocco, on Royal Air Maroc, then on to Glasgow on a British Airways flight, the government has said. She was cleared for flying from Heathrow even after she complained of feeling feverish. Pre-departure checks had shown no indication of fever.

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.