Special report: Would our hospitals and doctors be prepared if Ebola hit Herts?

A view of what might happen if the ebola virus hit Hertfordshire
A view of what might happen if the ebola virus hit Hertfordshire

The worldwide effort to stem the outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus has reached new heights, with the disease still sweeping across West Africa and now reaching into Europe and the US.

So, what would happen if Ebola – or any other epidemic – infected the people of Hertfordshire?

Coloured transmission electron micro-graph of a single Ebola virus, the cause of Ebola fever. It is one of the group of filoviruses, so-called for its thin and long shape. Here the viral filament is seen looping in on itself

Coloured transmission electron micro-graph of a single Ebola virus, the cause of Ebola fever. It is one of the group of filoviruses, so-called for its thin and long shape. Here the viral filament is seen looping in on itself

Nearby Heathrow airport begun screening of passengers flying into this part of the world from countries at risk yesterday.

While anyone with suspected Ebola will be taken straight to hospital, those with no symptoms but deemed at high-risk due to contact with other suffering patients, will be contacted daily by Public Health England.

Herts County Council cabinet member for public health and localism Teresa Heritage, explained the authority is in regular contact with officials at the national health body about the Ebola threat.

She said: “We want to reassure residents that at the moment the overall risk of Ebola to Hertfordshire remains very low.

“We are in regular contact with colleagues at Public Health England, who have put plans in place for managing any cases of Ebola arriving or arising in the UK.

“All health care providers are on alert and have clear guidelines for identifying potential cases.

“In the event that a case is identified here, we have robust, well developed and well-tested NHS systems for managing unusual infectious diseases like Ebola.”

Symptoms of Ebola include fever, headache, vomiting, diarrhoea and bleeding, which are similar to those of morecommon infections like flu and some stomach bugs.

The West Herts Hospitals NHS Trust has been using its social media presence to help educate patients across its Hemel Hempstead, Watford and St Albans sites about how the area is preparing itself against an epidemic the likes of which have been seen in Guinea,Liberia and Sierra Leone.

It has tweeted information from its @WestHertsNHS Twitter account, including reassurances the risk to the UK remains low – even if a handful of cases are diagnosed here over the coming months, as predicted by health secretary Jeremy Hunt.

The information, provided by Public Health England, reveals there is minimal risk of Ebola spreading to the general population, even if it were to arrive here.

It confirms UK hospitals are much better equipped than their African counterparts to handle infectious diseases, and any Ebola patient would be cared for in isolation by specialist staff.

The government has now ordered a national exercise to test preparedness for Ebola in the UK as part of contingency planning – and while the country’s health officials gear up for its potential arrival on British soil, some in the Herts area continue to direct their attention to the root of the problem.

Berkhamsted’s Oxfam shops have launched an emergency appeal for the escalating Ebolacrisis in West Africa. “The medical services are overwhelmed by the scale of the Ebola epidemic and if we do not act immediately the crisis will be soon escalate out of control. We’re calling on the people of Dacorum to support this appeal and help Oxfam raise the £22 million we need to help stem this emergency,” said Oxfam volunteer Audrey Hope.

Donate in store, by caling 0300 200 1999 or online at oxfam.org.uk.

Ebola: The facts
More than 8,000 cases and 3,800 deaths have been reported in the current Ebola outbreak, according to the World HealthOrganisation

Ebola virus disease (EVD), formerly known as Ebola haemorrhagic fever, is a severe, often fatal illness in humans

The virus is transmitted to people from wild animals and spreads through human-to-human transmission

The average EVD case fatality rate is around 50%. Case fatality rates have varied from 25% to 90% in past outbreaks

There are currently no licensed Ebola vaccines but two potentials are undergoing evaluation