A British military nurse who contracted Ebola in Sierra Leone has paid tribute to the “incredible” NHS team that cared for her, after making a full recovery at London’s Royal Free Hospital.
Corporal Anna Cross, 25, a military reservist and NHS intensive care nurse from Cambridge, said that medical staff at the Royal Free, who have now successfully treated three British Ebola patients, were “the best in the world”.
She is the first Ebola patient in the world to have been given an experimental new drug, MIL 77, which doctors said may have aided her recovery.
During her treatment, in the Royal Free’s specialist isolation tent, she was provided with an iPad on which she says she watched numerous David Attenborough documentaries. After two weeks in isolation, she said she was now looking forward to returning to normal life.
“Just going out to a restaurant will be the most exciting thing,” she said.
Corporal Cross, of the 254 Medical Regiment, volunteered to join the UK’s response to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, which has claimed more than 10,300 lives in the past year.
She arrived in Sierra Leone in February, but contracted Ebola while treating patients earlier this month. She was evacuated to the UK by RAF jet. It is still not known exactly how she became infected.
Hailing both the military team who cared for her in Sierra Leone and evacuated her, and the NHS team responsible for her care, she said: “If it wasn’t for both those institutions I wouldn’t be here today,” she said.
“I was diagnosed in the treatment facility I had worked in and was looked after by the colleagues I had worked with,” she said. “That gave me such confidence because they’re total professionals.”
She said the team at the Royal Free were “incredibly skilled, incredibly intelligent and incredibly professional”.
Dr Michael Jacobs, infectious disease consultant and head of the team that treated Corporal Cross, said the MIL 77 drug had been acquired from the Chinese company Beijing Mab-Works.
The drug, which is similar to ZMapp, an experimental treatment that was given to the nurse Will Pooley, the first British Ebola patient, is one of a range of new medicines that have been fast-tracked into trials by doctors responding to the worst Ebola outbreak in history.
The men and women on the frontline against Ebola and other hazards
The men and women on the frontline against Ebola and other hazards
1/6 Linda Dixon, 60, leads research into African swine fever at the Pirbright Institute in Surrey
"For more than 25 years I've been trying to develop a vaccine for the African swine fever virus, which causes death in domestic pigs, and has symptoms quite like Ebola. It came from East Africa in the 1920s and was transmitted to Georgia in 2007 via food from shipping that was fed to pigs. It has now spread to neighbouring countries and this year entered the EU via Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. It's difficult to eliminate because it also infects wild boar, which populate large parts of Europe."
2/6 Simon Woodmore, 45, is a paramedic and operations officer for London Ambulance Service's Hazardous Area Response Team (Hart)
"I have a helmet for all occasions – five in all – as well as an array of outfits, including breathing apparatus and gas-tight suits, respirators and chemical protective suits. My job is to put paramedics where historically they could not have worked. We were born out of the Tokyo subway sarin attack in 1995, and have been running as Hart since 2006. There are 94 of us in London dealing with chemical, biological and radiological incidents, as well as building collapses and floods."
3/6 Simon Woodmore, paramedic and operations officer
"We've always dealt with contagious diseases and work with the Royal Free Hospital London high-level isolation unit to transfer confirmed cases, which fortunately is rare. A lot of it is communicating with the patient in a caring and compassionate way, which can be difficult when you're in full gear. There is an increased awareness of Ebola, but it's about reinforcing the processes we already have in place. Any personal risk is mitigated by our training and equipment."
4/6 Benjamin Black, 33, is a specialist registrar in obstetrics and gynaecology for Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF)
"In June I travelled to Sierra Leone, where one in 21 women of reproductive age dies in childbirth. This was my first mission, and the reason I got into medicine. I had my eyes wide open to Ebola; though it was still in its early days and concentrated across the border in Guinea, within days I had my first suspected Ebola cases in maternity. It was happening."
5/6 Benjamin Black, Médecins Sans Frontières
"You need a healthy amount of fear to be safe, as well as protocol and organisational back-up. The greatest fear then is how long you can keep getting it right. There is also a huge psychological element. I checked my temperature daily, but in a hot, humid country there's a constant feverish feeling anyway. We had scares and one of our national nurses was infected, probably in the community. He sadly died and it had a huge impact on the team."
6/6 Lisa Jameson, 29, is a National Institute for Health Research doctoral research fellow for Public Health England, based at the Porton Down facility in Wiltshire. She specialises in emerging viruses
"I was in the field watching patients come into the isolation centre next to us, often with their families. Sometimes they'd be walking and talkative, then die that night. It was tough but we were so busy, and being there made it feel like we were making a difference. When I got home after a month, I felt a sense of guilt that I was able to walk away. I'll almost certainly be going back."
Dr Jacobs said it was impossible to know for certain whether the drug had played a role in Corporal Cross’s recovery, but that treatment had gone “very well”.
Corporal Cross said she had lost 10 kilos during her illness and was still far from recovering her full strength. She said she intended to return to fitness slowly, with a view to re-joining the military as soon as fully fit. It is unlikely she will be able to return to the frontline of the fight against Ebola, with the UK now winding down its military mission in the country as the number of new cases slowly declines.
While the virus is now spreading much more slowly than at the peak of the epidemic, there are still dozens of new cases every week in the three affected countries: Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia. However, the week to 22 March saw only 79 new cases, the lowest weekly total in 2015, according to the World Health Organisation.
England’s chief medical officer, Dame Sally Davies said: “It is wonderful to hear that Corporal Cross has recovered from Ebola. This is thanks to the world class care she received at the Royal Free and I want to thank them for their incredible work. I am grateful for Corporal Cross’ bravery and all those who have selflessly helped out with the crisis in Sierra Leone.”