Public Health England (PHE) undertook contact tracing following the confirmed case of Ebola in a healthcare worker returning from Sierra Leone. The person had left Sierra Leone on 28 December and had been a passenger on flight AT596 from Freetown to Casablanca, flight AT0800 from Casablanca to London, and transferred at Heathrow to flight BA1478 for onward travel to Glasgow.
Although the risk of infection to other passengers on the flights was considered extremely low, PHE identified all 132 passengers on the flight from Casablanca to London Heathrow. 117 of these passengers were contacted and advised directly by PHE and an additional 15 international passengers and crew members were contacted by international public health authorities. Health Protection Scotland carried out a similar exercise for the 71 passengers on the Heathrow to Glasgow flight, and has now contacted all passengers.
People contacted by PHE were made aware that a person on their flight was confirmed with Ebola after they returned to the UK, although the person would have been in the very early stages of disease and extremely unlikely to be infectious.
Even though the risk is considered extremely low, as a precaution we informed people sitting directly of the vicinity of the passenger (2 rows adjacent, ahead and behind, comprising 21 passengers) to take their temperature twice daily until the 18 January 2015. If their temperature is 37.5°C or higher, or they begin to feel unwell in any way, they are advised to call a dedicated PHE contact immediately for advice.
The period between exposure and when symptoms might develop (the incubation period) for Ebola is up to 21 days. Therefore, as of January 19 2015, we have reached the end of the monitoring period for passengers who travelled on the flight. We can confirm no one else was affected and no further monitoring related to this flight will be undertaken by PHE. Any illness that passengers might experience beyond that point would not be considered to be related.
It is important to remember the risk of Ebola being passed onto other passengers was extremely low and monitoring was being undertaken only as a precaution.
The patient was on the returning worker scheme and was screened at Heathrow Airport on arrival, in line with standard procedures. At this point they did not have any symptoms of a fever, stated they had been well in the previous 24 hours and were cleared to travel home as per the protocol. This process was overseen by a medical consultant.
PHE is leading the screening process and is providing clinical staff on a rota in all of the ports identified for the enhanced screening. Since October 2014, we have screened over 1,700 people returning from Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia.
Professor Paul Cosford, director for health protection and medical director at PHE, said:
For Ebola to be transmitted from one person to another contact with blood or other body fluids is needed. The individual involved did not experience any symptoms consistent with the transmission of Ebola, and as such, the risk that this infection would be from the affected individual to others was extremely unlikely.