Monday 20 January 2020

British Ebola sufferer to be kept in strict isolation as doctors battle to save his life

Credit: Facebook/William Pooley
Credit: Facebook/William Pooley

British Ebola victim William Pooley will be kept in strict isolation behind plastic sheeting for weeks while doctors battle to save his life, experts have said.

The nurse, 29, who contracted the potentially killer disease while treating patients in Sierra Leone, will have undergone a thorough medical examination as doctors work out exactly how bad the infection is.

He faces weeks, and potentially even months, in a bed surrounded by a plastic tent in the high-tech isolation unit at the Royal Free hospital on Hampstead, north London.

His only face to face contact with the outside world will be a roster of specialist medics clad in protective plastic suits, gloves and masks.

Dr Nick Beeching, senior lecturer in infectious diseases at the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, said that Mr Pooley is likely to be very "frightened" and one of the first things doctors must do is reassure him.

He told BBC News: "The first priority is just to make sure he remains stable. It sounds as if he is not too badly off, and it is a good thing he has been brought over at an early stage of the infection so he can be given good, supportive care.

"Obviously they will be trying to reassure him. It is quite frightening being in one of these isolators."

He said visits from friends and family are unlikely as doctors concentrate their efforts on ensuring Mr Pooley is stable, and treating any additional health problems he may contract in his weakened state, such as pneumonia.

He said "good, basic medical care" will vastly improve Mr Pooley's chances of survival - slashing the mortality rate from the 90% it is in Africa to below 50%.

But it could be weeks before doctors know how bad the infection will get and if the nurse from Suffolk will survive it.

A special filter system has been installed in the isolation unit to purify the air, and waste is separated and carefully disposed of.

Professor David Heymann, the director of the Chatham House Centre on Global Health Security, said Ebola is spread through sweat, blood and vomit, but is not airborne.

This, combined with the hospital's strict measures, means there is no chance the infection will spread to staff, patients or visitors.

He said: "The good thing, if there is a good thing about Ebola, it does not spread by respiratory means.

"That means that isolation is a little bit easier than having to protect also against airborne transmission. It is only transmitted by body secretions and by blood, and by vomit and excrement.

"That person will be put under strict isolation measures. Hospital workers will be completely protected so there is no possibility of them getting infected themselves, or indeed transmitting the infection unintentionally to others in the hospital."

He said Mr Pooley's chances of survival depended on a range of factors including his fitness and how well his body naturally produces antibodies to fight it off.

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