Doomsday warning: UN Ebola chief raises ‘nightmare’ prospect that virus could mutate and become airborne – making it much more infectious
The longer the Ebola epidemic continues infecting people unabated, the higher the chances it will mutate and become airborne, the UN’s Ebola response chief has warned.
Anthony Banbury, the Secretary General’s Special Representative, has said there is a ‘nightmare’ prospect the deadly disease will become airborne if it continues infecting new hosts.
His comments come as organisations battling the crisis in West Africa warned the international community has just four weeks to stop its spread before it spirals ‘completely out of control’.
And the British nurse who survived the disease said the ‘horror and misery’ of watching young children die from the disease must be avoided ‘at all costs’.
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Mr Banbury told the Telegraph that aid workers were fighting a race against time amid fears the disease will begin to mutate.
He said: ‘The longer it moves around in human hosts in the virulent melting pot that is West Africa, the more chances increase that it could mutate.
‘It is a nightmare scenario, and unlikely, but it can’t be ruled out.’
He also admitted the international community had been late to respond to what was the worst disaster he had ever witnessed.
He said: ‘In a career working in these kinds of situations, wars, natural disasters – I have never seen anything as serious or dangerous or high risk as this one.’
Addressing the Defeating Ebola conference in London today, British nurse Will Pooley, 29, pleaded with the world’s governments to do all they could to stop children dying from the disease.
Visibly upset and at times overwhelmed by his emotions, Mr Pooley retold the case of a brother and sister, aged four and two, who he cared for in Sierra Leone.
He described the ‘squalid’ conditions they were treated in, telling how the young boy died with a pained grimace on his face lying naked in a pool of his own diarrhoea.
The little girl, described by Mr Pooley as ‘beautiful’, died a day after her brother, a puzzled look on her tiny face as she lay covered in her own blood.
Pleading with the world’s governments, Mr Pooley, said: ‘My specific fear is the horror and the misery of these deaths.
‘And I just don’t know what happens if that is repeated one million times and so I say, at all costs we can’t let that happen.’
Mr Pooley, from Suffolk, has just returned from a life-saving mission to the U.S. where he gave blood to try and help a victim of the virus, a friend he worked with in Sierra Leone helping victims.
He became the first Briton to contract the virus after working as a volunteer nurse in Sierra Leone, which is one of the worst-hit countries of the current outbreak.
He was flown back to Britain on August 24 and recovered after being treated at an isolation unit at London’s Royal Free Hospital.
The number of new Ebola infections is growing exponentially – officials believe the number of new cases is doubling every few weeks, while more than 3,300 people in West Africa have so far been killed.
Save the Children have also warned five more people are infected with the virus every hour.
This week the first case of Ebola on U.S. soil was diagnosed after Thomas Eric Duncan flew into Dallas, Texas from Liberia, touching down in Brussels and Washington en route.
He is now being treated at the Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital and is said to be in a serious but stable condition.
Details of his treatment have not been revealed but Mr Duncan is reportedly not being treated with the experimental serum ZMapp used to treat aid workers with the disease, including Mr Pooley – because stocks have run out.
As many as 100 people in Texas are feared to have come into contact with 42-year-old Mr Duncan and are being contacted by health officials.
Earlier authorities had put the figure at 18, including five children – prompting parents to remove their sons and daughters from schools in Dallas.