A British man who recently worked as a volunteer nurse in Sierra Leone has entered a high-containment isolation unit at Royal Free Hospital in London after testing positive for Ebola, officials say.
On Sunday evening, William Pooley, 29, was flown on a specially-equipped military jet to Royal Air Force Station Northolt and then transferred to the London hospital for treatment.
Pooley had been traveling in the region and volunteering for six months at Shepherd's Hospice in Freetown, Sierra Leone, initially to work with AIDS patients, before being diagnosed with the deadly Ebola virus that has so far killed more than 1,400 people.
On Monday, Pooley's family issued a statement on Facebook and asked for the media and the general public to respect his privacy. "We would like to express our thanks to all involved in bringing our son back to the UK," they wrote. "We have been astounded by the speed and way which the various international and UK government agencies have worked together to get Will home. Will is receiving excellent care at the Royal Free Hospital and we could not ask for him to be in a better place. We would like to thank all our family and friends for their best wishes and ask everyone to remember those in other parts of the world suffering with Ebola who do not have access to the same healthcare facilities as Will."
British officials say Pooley's treatment at the facility will not pose a health risk to other patients and health care workers at the hospital or the public at large.
Royal Free Hospital's state-of-the-art isolation unit for patients with infectious diseases is the only one of its kind in Europe. The unit first opened in 2006 and has been used to treat several patients with hemorrhagic fever, a virus closely linked to Ebola. The hospital says access to the area is restricted to specially trained medical staff. The patient is placed in a tent that controls ventilation and allows doctors to provide care to a patient while containing the infection. The facility's other features include a dedicated entrance for the patient and a pressure chamber used to sterilize equipment and supplies. The air that circulates outside the unit is purified so as not to pose a risk for anyone in the hospital.
Earlier this month, two American missionaries who contracted the virus received treatment at a similar facility at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta. Both patients have recovered and were released from the hospital last week.
Heath care workers treating Ebola patients in the West African countries of Sierra Leone, Liberia, Guinea and Nigeria -- and now the Democratic Republic of the Congo in Central Africa, where two cases have been reported -- are at an especially high risk for contracting the virus. Medical personnel and supporting staff at many of the facilities are not sufficiently equipped with protective gear, disinfectants and other supplies needed to stay safe. Looting of supplies has happened at medical facilities in some of the areas tightly gripped by the outbreak, amid insufficient security measures and lack of resources. Officials say many of the materials stolen and ransacked may have been contaminated with the virus, which is communicable through bodily fluids such as blood, feces and saliva.
The World Health Organization says more than 240 health care workers have been infected and 120 have died in this Ebola outbreak. A number of West Africa's most highly skilled doctors are among the victims.