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Ebola contagion in Spain raises fears for Europe

7th October 2014, Comments 0 comments

Doctors in Spain hospitalised three more people and rushed to identify dozens of others at risk on Tuesday after a nurse was infected with the deadly Ebola virus, raising fears of contagion in Europe.

The European Union demanded answers about how the disease spread in a specialised disease unit while health staff protested over safety failures.

The nurse worked at Madrid's La Paz-Carlos III, where she cared for two elderly Spanish missionaries who died from the virus after being flown home from west Africa, where the disease has killed nearly 3,500 people.

The Madrid nurse, identified by Spanish media as a woman in her forties called Teresa, became the first person to contract the disease outside Africa.

Officials said they were trying to find out who she came into contact with before being isolated on Monday. They were monitoring 52 people -- mostly health staff.

"It would be very naive to think that there is no possibility of contagion," the government's health emergencies coordinator Fernando Simon told Cadena Ser radio.

Doctors at the hospital said her husband was also at "high risk" and was put in isolation. Another "suspect case" -- a Spanish engineer recently returned from Nigeria -- was also being monitored.

A fourth patient, one of the nurse's colleagues, who had suffered from diarrhoea, has also been taken in for observation, the hospital said.

- Risk of contagion -

The infected nurse had treated Spanish priest Miguel Pajares, 75, who was infected with Ebola in Liberia and died on August 12, as well as Manuel Garcia Viejo, 69, who was repatriated from Sierra Leone and died on September 25.

She is believed to have contracted the virus while caring for Garcia Viejo.

The European Commission has written to the Spanish health ministry demanding an explanation, an EU spokesman said in Brussels.

US President Barack Obama warned on Monday that "some large countries are not doing enough" to tackle the epidemic.

Spanish government officials said the nurse began to feel ill on September 30 while on leave after treating the two missionaries, but was not admitted to hospital until five days later.

Health workers' unions said the nurse had called the Carlos III hospital when she felt ill but was first referred back to a local health centre.

The hospital's director, Rafael Perez Santamarina, said she was not admitted at that time because she did not yet have a high fever or other Ebola symptoms.

The nurse's husband Javier told El Mundo newspaper she "did everything they told her" when she reported feeling ill.

Medical staff protested outside the main site of La Paz hospital in their white coats, yelling for Health Minister Ana Mato to resign.

"People are freaked out," a cardiologist at the hospital told AFP. "We cannot understand how someone who was wearing a double protection suit and two pairs of gloves could have been contaminated."

Health worker unions complained staff had not been adequately trained.

"We do not have the infrastructure to tackle a virus like this," said Elena Moral, leader of the CSIF-AGCM union.

- Economic threat -

Ebola causes severe fever, vomiting, diarrhoea and sometimes internal and external bleeding. It spreads through contact and bodily fluids.

There is no vaccine and no widely available cure, but one treatment, dubbed ZMapp, has shown promising early results and has been fast-tracked for mass production.

Ebola has caused 3,439 deaths out of 7,478 cases across five west African nations -- Liberia, Guinea, Sierra Leone, Nigeria and Senegal -- according to the latest WHO tally.

Patients have been treated for the disease in Europe and the United States, but until now all the cases stemmed from people who caught the virus in west Africa.

Madrid's IBEX-35 stock index closed 2.02 percent lower and other European markets also fell on news of the infection, with travel and tourism groups hit hard.

The International Monetary Fund warned in a report on Tuesday that economic damage from the Ebola outbreak could spread beyond west Africa and become global.

© 2014 AFP

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