Patients and nervous visitors to Belfast’s Royal Victoria Hospital have expressed concerns after it emerged that a man is being tested there for the deadly Ebola virus.
Many voiced support for and tough screening measures after news that the man, who is believed to have recently returned from west Africa, also has malaria and is being kept in a special isolation unit.
It is expected that the results of a blood sample will be made public later tomorrow.
Over the past two weeks, staff in hospitals across Northern Ireland have been taking part in mock exercises to prepare for any major outbreak.
It was also recently announced that senior doctors across all local health Trusts have created contingency plans to deal with an Ebola outbreak.
According to the World Health Organisation Ebola has killed up to 4,500 people since the current outbreak started in west Africa.
The the Public Health Agency (PHA) said the risk to the wider community is low, but even the news that someone is being tested in Belfast has caused fear.
Caroline Hull from Belfast, who was last night visiting her husband at the Royal, said she was worried.
“It’s very scary to think that someone living here could have Ebola,” she said.
“Everyone should be screened if they fly out of those countries because it’s worrying to think anyone can come and go without being tested.
“I don’t think the Government is doing enough to protect people coming in and out of African countries because it could easily spread.”
Mr Hull said he “wouldn’t be surprised” if the man tested positive for the virus, but added that he had confidence in the health service to deal with hit.
“As long as he is kept in isolation I’m not too concerned about it. It doesn’t bother me too much because I know he is in safe hands and that staff know what they are doing. There would be a bit more of a panic if something bad was going on,” he said.
One A&E patient, who only wanted to be known as Mrs Calvert stated: “I haven’t heard that much about it. I didn’t know there was someone here who is being tested but that’s the last thing we need.
“I just hope I am not put anywhere near him but I suppose it could happen anywhere - you could meet someone in the café who has it and there’s nothing you can do. Anyone who is sick needs to be taken to hospital anyway no matter what they have. They would be isolation but I still think we should be concerned but they need looked after and treated.
“I just hope staff have the all the right training.”
A 24-year-old man from Portaferry visiting his mother said he was concerned for staff and hospital patients.
“People are always flying back from those countries so it was probably going to end up here at some stage but I think travellers should be tested before they enter the another country if they have visited affected areas,” he said.
“I’m more worried about my mum. It’s more of a concern to patients who are in hospital but I would like to think that hospital staff have been trained to deal with it and know exactly what to do.”
In line with national guidelines, health staff are wearing protective clothing while treating the patient.
Northern Ireland’s biggest healthcare union said all health trusts have put contingency plans in place for an outbreak of Ebola.
Unison representative Jill Weir said: “All the trusts should have the right equipment now for an event like this. I would be of the view that the Trusts have ongoing training and contingency plans to deal with this.
“We have the isolation units in Accident & Emergency departments and if there is there is someone who presents themselves with symptoms there are measures and equipment in place to deal with it.
“Health staff have been placed on alerts about possible pandemics before and they have been able to keep it under control.
“The trusts should be treating staff safety as a priority too and I’m confident all trusts have safety measures in place.”
Ebola virus disease (EVD), formerly known as Ebola haemorrhagic fever, can be a severe illness in humans.
The incubation period - the time interval from infection with the virus to onset of symptoms - is two to 21 days.