DUBAI // A passenger who flew on an Emirates Airline flight from Dubai to Glasgow was last night fighting a rare, deadly virus in a high-security hospital in London.
The man, 38, was infected with the tick-borne Crimean Congo viral haemorrhagic fever.
He was admitted to hospital within three hours of landing in the UK on Tuesday and was being treated in complete isolation, said a spokesman for NHS.
Health officials moved to allay fears. “Crimean-Congo haemorrhagic fever can be acquired from an infected patient only through direct contact with their blood or body fluids,” said a spokeswoman for Royal Free hospital. “Therefore, there is no risk to the general public.”
The patient, who was reported by the PA news agency to have been in transit from Kabul when he landed in Dubai, was flown yesterday morning from the Gartnavel General Hospital’s Brownlee Centre in Glasgow to an infectious disease unit at the Royal Free London NHS Foundation Trust.
Once the patient was stabilised in Scotland, he was transferred to London in special isolation air facilities with support from the Scottish Ambulance Service and the Royal Air Force.
The disease can cause severe bleeding in later stages, while early signs include headache, high fever, back, joint and stomach pain and vomiting. It kills one in three who contract it, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).
The Royal Free hospital is the UK’s specialist centre for hazardous infections and is run by infectious disease specialists.
The high-security unit is sealed, self-contained and separated from other public and ward areas. It has its own filtered air supply and outlets.
Hazardous infections include viral fevers such as lassa, ebola and marburg, and the less known Crimean-Congo haemorrhagic fever. The unit is activated only when a patient requiring high-security care is identified.
“The move of the patient is in line with the UK-wide protocol for the management of diseases of this severity and rarity,” an NHS spokesman said.
The flight EK027 from Dubai to Glasgow had reached Scotland at 12.35pm on October 2.
Three passengers, who were seated close to the patient on the Emirates flight, have been tested and showed no symptoms.
“There is no evidence of transmission of infection,” an NHS spokesman said. “However, they will continue to be followed up.”
Travellers on the Emirates flight with any concerns can contact the NHS on 08000 85 8531 for information and advice.
While the disease was rare in the UK, it was endemic in parts of Asia, Africa and eastern and southern Europe.
Most patients have been involved with the livestock industry, such as veterinarians, and agricultural and slaughterhouse workers.
The WHO advised people working with animals to wear protective clothing to avoid exposure and bites from infected ticks and no undue contact with blood and infected tissues.
Doctors in the UAE said it was highly unlikely that the disease had spread to fellow travellers in Dubai.
“It is not an airborne disease and so it is not easy to transmit,” said Dr Mansour Al Zarouni, a Ministry of Health infectious control expert and head of pathology and laboratory medicine at Sharjah Medical District.
“There is no need for worry here because it’s one of the rarest diseases and is uncommon in this region. Outbreaks are known to have occurred in Africa, Pakistan and India.
“It can occur only accidentally; for instance, if passed from an infected tick to a man slaughtering animals.”
Meanwhile, Emirates said it was “in full compliance with the relevant health authorities in the UK”.
Experts said management of the patient’s symptoms was critical.
“It requires an intensive-care unit and careful management of the patient’s vitals sign like the heart rate and blood pressure,” said Dr Dennis Faix, the WHO medical officer for Europe.
Recovery hinged on the patient’s immunity and in some cases an anti-viral drug Ribavirin had proved effective, he said.
“Other passengers have no increased risk,” Dr Faix said. “The health authorities are tracking passengers he had close interaction with and customs officials.”
* Effects of Crimean Congo viral haemorrhagic fever
The onset of the Crimean Congo viral haemorrhagic fever is quick. Symptoms include light sensitivity, sore and red eyes, muscle ache, neck, back and joint pain, stiffness, fever, vomiting and diarrhoea.
Severe symptoms include mood swings, aggression, sleepiness, depression and liver enlargement.
The illness can last two weeks. A patient can suffer bruising spread over large areas with nose and gum bleeds and uncontrolled bleeding at injection sites.
In the last stages, the patient can suffer liver, kidney and lung failure, and become comatose.