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Brits say “Ebola doctors are heroes, but keep away from me”

18 March 2015

Most UK adults would avoid doctors and nurses who have recently been battling the Ebola virus overseas, a poll by the British Red Cross has revealed.


72% of British adults believe healthcare workers who have been treating Ebola patients should automatically have a period of quarantine, while a majority (56%) worry that these healthcare workers could spread the virus in the UK.


The findings are published as a third British national is confirmed to have caught the virus in Sierra Leone.


Only one in three adults surveyed by the Red Cross (36%) would be willing to speak to someone who has recently come back from an Ebola-affected country face-to-face, while three in ten would be willing to sit near them in a car or on public transport (30%). Only a quarter of people surveyed said they would shake the hand of a returning aid worker. (23%).


More than half of adults (55%) wouldn’t do any of these.


However, four in five UK adults (78%) support and admire health professionals who work in Ebola-affected countries. This indicates that despite widespread news coverage of the Ebola outbreak since it was first confirmed in Guinea nearly a year ago in March 2014, the nature of the transmission of the virus is still not fully understood.


Pete Jones, Ebola Response Manager for the British Red Cross said: “The facts are that even if you have Ebola, as long as you are symptom free, you’re almost certainly not contagious - so no one should worry about being near someone who has simply been in an Ebola affected country.”


“Doctors and nurses returning from West Africa have had colleagues express concern about them returning to work, and some were even unable to spend Christmas with their families. It’s clear that fear surrounding Ebola is high. Although this is understandable given how deadly we know the virus can be, it’s important we don’t lose sight of the fact that the best way to reduce risk to the UK public is to focus on wiping out Ebola in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone – which we are still some way off achieving.”


Even with a symptomatic Ebola patient, direct contact with blood or body fluids is the only way the virus can be transmitted. It is NOT spread through ordinary social contact and an individual is only contagious when symptomatic and unwell.


All aid workers returning to the UK after working in an Ebola-affected country undergo screening for symptoms at the airport and are monitored for 21 days, the longest known incubation period for the virus. The British Red Cross has stringent safety protocols in place for all of its delegates working in Ebola affected countries.


Jones continued: “The doctors and nurses who have volunteered in this Ebola outbreak have provided life-saving care in some of the most difficult conditions there are. Local health workers from Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone have led the way, but treating Ebola safely requires a lot of medical personnel and sadly, many have themselves died – meaning that the contribution of health workers from overseas has been vital. We wouldn’t be where we are today, seeing a significant reduction in Ebola cases, without them. The last thing we should be doing is stigmatising them.”


“We are lucky in the UK to have a healthcare system which would be able to quickly identify and isolate an Ebola patient if needed, which means the chances of it spreading and causing an outbreak are miniscule.”


Of the hundreds of British healthcare workers who have volunteered in West Africa during the current Ebola outbreak, three have become infected with the virus, all of whom have returned to the UK for treatment. Two have been safely discharged and a military healthcare worker is currently receiving treatment at the Royal Free Hospital in London.



Notes to editors


For further information, photos or interviews with British Red Cross health workers who have volunteered in West Africa, please contact Anna MacSwan


The survey was carried out for the British Red Cross by Opinium Research LLP. Additional findings include:

-       Four in five UK adults (78%) support and admire the UK health professionals who work in Ebola-affected countries

-       22% do think that Ebola is an airborne virus when it isn’t

-       29% of people believe there will be a minor outbreak of Ebola in the UK


Five key facts about Ebola:

  1. Ebola is spread through direct contact with bodily fluids of an infected person – blood, urine, stool, semen, saliva and sweat – or indirectly through contact with contaminated areas, such as soiled clothing or bed linen
  2. Over 10,000 people have died in the current Ebola outbreak – the worst on record – all but a handful in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone
  3. An individual is only contagious when symptomatic and unwell
  4. Healthcare workers are at particular risk when treating patients if strict precautions are not adhered to
  5. One of the key reasons Ebola has spread in West Africa is because health systems in affected countries are chronically weak and unable to cope with such a widespread outbreak

For more information on the facts behind Ebola visit:

Red Cross staff and volunteers have been responding to the Ebola outbreak since it began in Guinea in March 2014. Their focus has been a five pillar approach of educating communities about Ebola, treating patients, providing safe and dignified burials, tracing contacts of patients and providing psychosocial support to those who have been affected.