Ebola scare in London as traveler from Gambia collapses and dies at airport

The death of an elderly Gambian woman who collapsed while deplaning in London set off a mini-panic among airport workers that the deceased was suffering from the ebola virus.

Later tests by the British Department of Health showed that ebola was not the cause of death.


The Department for Health said the test on the elderly woman, who landed at Gatwick Airport, came back negative on Sunday afternoon.

Some 728 people have died of Ebola in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone this year, in the worst-ever outbreak of the disease.

Public Health England says the risk to the UK remains very low.

The Ebola virus spreads through human contact with a sufferer's bodily fluids.

Initial flu-like symptoms can lead to external haemorrhaging from areas like eyes and gums, and internal bleeding which can lead to organ failure. The current mortality rate is about 55%.

'No public health risk'

The woman, believed to be in her early 70s, had been a passenger on a Gambia Bird flight that arrived at Gatwick on Saturday morning.

She collapsed at the airport and was later pronounced dead in hospital.

A Department of Health spokeswoman said the passenger's symptoms had not suggested she was an Ebola victim but the test was carried out because she had travelled from West Africa.

Dr Brian McCloskey, director of global public health at Public Health England (PHE), said: "There was no health risk to other passengers or crew, as the passenger did not have symptoms during the flight.

"It was considered very unlikely to be a case of Ebola but testing was done as a precaution, and was negative.

"The correct procedures were followed to confirm there was no reason to quarantine the airplane, the passengers or staff. PHE can confirm there was no public health risk around the sad death of this individual."

I'm sure there's nothing to worry about in this particiular case, but it raises an interesting question: Would the government inform the citizens if an ebola outbreak was possible?

The ebola crisis in Africa is largely confined to the back country, with few cases in urban centers. Such would not be the case in the west where a real pandemic would be possible due to the population density. But despite the risk, would the government try to avoid a panic by hiding the truth if ebola were to appear anywhere in America?

Just as the government hides the risk of terrorist attacks, you have to conclude that they would hide the truth about an ebola case or two appearing in the US. On one level, it makes sense - the panic would be worse than the threat of spreading the disease. But I'd risk a little panic to give citizens the unvarnished and complete truth about a health threat like ebola.

But would our government think the same way?

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