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Health officials allay Ebola fears

Health officials say infrastructure and adequate safety measures to deal with the virus are in place.

A volunteer in a protective suit looks on after spraying disinfectant outside a home in Waterloo, some 30 kilometres southeast of Freetown, on 7 October 2014. Picture: AFP.

JOHANNESBURG - While fears around the potential spread of Ebola to South Africa increase, health officials have reiterated they are ready to deal with the deadly virus in the event that a case is detected here.

On Monday, Spanish health officials confirmed the first case of the virus was contracted outside of Africa.

A 40-year-old nurse from Madrid tested positive for the virus and remains in hospital.

Health officials say although there's a low risk of Ebola spreading to the country, infrastructure and adequate safety measures to deal with the virus are in place.

Professor Guy Richards, director of critical care at the Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Academic Hospital, says this is something they've been preparing for, for some time.

"We were aware of the fact that there's potential at any time for

viral haemorrhagic fever to occur."

Richards says all health practitioners have been educated about the virus.

"Particularly those who are on the front line like the emergency rooms and casualty departments."

Sky News reporter Alex Crawford, who is in Liberia, says everyone has a reason to worry.

"I think there's no doubt everyone should be worrying. The whole global village should be worrying."

The deadly epidemic has killed more than 3,400 people in West Africa.

EUROPE TO SEE MORE EBOLA CASES

The World Health Organisation (WHO) says Europe would almost certainly see more cases of Ebola after the nurse in Spain became the first person known to have caught the virus outside Africa.

With concerns growing globally that the worst Ebola outbreak on record could spread beyond West Africa, Spanish officials tried to reassure the public they were tackling the threat.

Health experts said the chances were slim of a full-blown outbreak outside Africa.

Rafael Perez-Santamaria, head of the Carlos III Hospital in Madrid, where the infected nurse, Teresa Romero, had treated two Spanish missionaries who had contracted the disease in West Africa, said medical staff were "revising our protocols".

Four people including the nurse's husband were admitted to hospital for observation. One of the four, another nurse, who had diarrhoea but no fever, tested negative for the virus, a Spanish health source said.

Even though western European hospitals, unlike most of those in the affected parts of Africa, have the facilities to isolate an infected patient, WHO European director Zsuzsanna Jakab said it was " quite unavoidable ... that such incidents will happen in the future because of the extensive travel from Europe to the affected countries and the other way around".

Health authorities in the developed world are being forced to re-examine their alertness to a disease that has been raging through Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia since March, killing more than half of those it infects.

Nurse Romero had gone on holiday in Madrid after the second of her Ebola patients died on 25 September but did not start feeling ill until 30 September. Her trade union said she had then asked three times to be tested for Ebola before the infection was finally confirmed on 6 October.

And while as many as 4,000 United States service members may be deployed to West Africa to fight Ebola, the Pentagon says only a small number will have direct contact with patients.

Liberia's ambassador to Washington, Rudolf Von Ballmoos, says this is the worst Ebola outbreak they have ever experienced.

Additional reporting from Reuters.