Ebola outbreak: Virus could reach UK and France by the end of the month, scientists claim

Analysis of disease spread patterns and airline traffic data suggests virus has 50 per cent chance of reaching Britain by October 24

James Rush
Monday 06 October 2014 10:53 BST
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A mural in Monrovia, Liberia, highlights the Ebola crisis
A mural in Monrovia, Liberia, highlights the Ebola crisis (Getty)

Scientists have claimed the Ebola virus could reach the UK and France by the end of the month.

Following an analysis of disease spread patterns and airline traffic data, experts have predicted there is a 75 per cent chance the virus could be imported to France by October 24, while there is a 50 per cent chance it could have also hit Britain.

The deadly epidemic has killed more than 3,400 people since it began in West Africa in March and has now started to spread faster, infecting almost 7,200 people so far.

The estimates have been based on air traffic remaining at full capacity. An 80 per cent reduction in travel however would see France's risk remain at 25 per cent, while Britain's risk would still be at 15 per cent.

The scientists' study suggests that more may bring it to Europe not knowing they are infected.

France is believed to be among the countries most likely to be hit next because the worst affected countries - Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia - include French speakers and have busy travel routes back.

Heathrow airport meanwhile is one of the world's biggest travel hubs.

Belgium has a 40 per cent chance of seeing the disease imported, while Spain and Switzerland have lower risks of 14 per cent each, according to the study first published in the journal PLoS Current Outbreaks. The study is also being updated at MoBS Lab.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has not placed any restrictions on travel and has encouraged airlines to keep flying to the worst-hit countries. British Airways and Emirates airlines have suspended some flights.

But Alex Vespignani, a professor at the Laboratory for the Modeling of Biological and Socio-Technical Systems at Northeastern University in Boston who led the research, said the risks change every day the epidemic continues.

"It's just a matter of who gets lucky and who gets unlucky."

The latest calculations used data from October 1.

"Air traffic is the driver," Mr Vespignani said. "But there are also differences in connections with the affected countries (Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone), as well as different numbers of cases in these three countries - so depending on that, the probability numbers change."

Additional reporting by Reuters

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