THERE is a "fifty-fifty chance" of somebody who has contracted the Ebola virus in Africa entering Ireland within the next six months, a leading medic has warned.
Dr John Lambert, Head of the National Isolation Unit at the Mater Hospital, Dublin, said the "most likely scenario" is that a healthcare worker will return with the killer virus.
But he insisted our medical protocols and contingency plans are "robust enough" to cope with such a possibility.
His comments come as a patient is being tested in a Northern Ireland hospital for the virus.
The patient, who recently travelled to West Africa and has already tested positive for malaria, has been put in an isolation unit at the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast.
In a statement, the HSE said the overall risk of a case of Ebola being imported into Ireland is low. Plans currently in place would not change now that a patient was being monitored in Northern Ireland, it added.
"Irish student nurses and doctors have gone over to volunteer in West Africa. The most likely scenario will possibly involve someone who will be medically evacuated from one of the affected countries," he said.
"There is a possibility of a volunteer or nurse - having volunteered for an aid agency such as Medecins Sans Frontieres - returning with the condition.
"Until the epidemic is wiped out in west Africa - which might take three to six months - we anticipate a medical carer coming back from Liberia, Sierra Lionne or Guinea with the virus.
"It's happened in the UK, France and Spain. We've been expecting something like this to happen. Belfast could be first but Dublin could be next."
He said over the next six months there's a "50-50 chance" the isolation unit will be managing a patient with suspected, or confirmed Ebola.
The Mater Hospital houses the specially prepared area where such a patient would be treated.
But Dr Lambert insisted there was no need for the public to panic, as strict contingency plans had been prepared, to cater for all possibilities.
"We have everything in place that needs to be in place. We're well ahead of the game. We have carried out a number of run-throughs with the ambulance and fire department," he added. "We expect it to happen, and we will increase the intensity of training we're currently doing."