The condition of British nurse Pauline Cafferkey who contracted Ebola after returning from Sierra Leone has deteriorated and is now critical, the Royal Free Hospital in north London said today.
Mrs Cafferkey, a Scottish public health nurse who had been volunteering in the stricken West African country, was diagnosed with the deadly virus on Monday after arriving home in Glasgow.
A brief statement on the hospital’s website said: “The Royal Free London NHS Foundation Trust is sorry to announce that the condition of Pauline Cafferkey has gradually deteriorated over the past two days and is now critical.”
The 39-year-old’s sudden change in condition comes after her doctor described her as sitting up, eating, drinking and communicating with her family on New Year’s Day.
But Dr Michael Jacobs warned that she faced a “critical” few days while she was treated with the blood from a survivor and an experimental anti-viral drug which is “not proven to work”.
The Royal Free Hospital, where she has been treated since Tuesday, was unable to obtain ZMapp, the drug used to treat recovered British volunteer and nurse William Pooley, because “there is none in the world at the moment”.
Expert microbiologist Professor Hugh Pennington said luck will play a role in the survival chances of Mrs Cafferkey because experts still do not know enough about the deadly virus.
Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said: “Our thoughts continue to be with Pauline Cafferkey and her family during this extremely distressing time.
“I would like to thank all of the health professionals involved in treating Pauline, as they continue to show tremendous dedication and expertise.”
Mrs Cafferkey, who works at Blantyre Health Centre in South Lanarkshire, was part of a 30-strong team of medical volunteers deployed to Africa by the UK Government last month and had been working with Save the Children at the Ebola Treatment Centre in Kerry Town, Sierra Leone.
She is the second Briton to test positive and the first to do so on UK soil after nurse Mr Pooley, 29, contracted Ebola while volunteering in Sierra Leone in August before getting the all-clear following treatment at the Royal Free Hospital.
Speaking about her treatment, Dr Jacobs said on New Year’s Day: “At the moment, we don’t know what the best treatment strategies are.
“That’s why we’re calling them experimental treatments. As we’ve explained to Pauline, we can’t be as confident as we would like.
“There’s obviously very good reason to believe it’s going to help her, otherwise we wouldn’t be using it at all, but we simply don’t have enough information to know that’s the case.”
Mrs Cafferkey was initially placed in isolation at a Glasgow hospital early on Monday after feeling feverish, before being transferred south on an RAF C-130 Hercules plane.
The healthcare worker had flown from Sierra Leone via Morocco to Heathrow, where she was considered a high risk because of the nature of her work but showed no symptoms during screening and a temperature check.
But while waiting for a connecting flight to Glasgow she raised fears about her temperature and was tested a further six times in the space of 30 minutes.
Despite her concerns, she was given the all-clear and flew on to Scotland where, after taking a taxi home, she later developed a fever and raised the alarm.
The British Government’s chief medical officer, Dame Sally Davies, admitted questions have been raised about the airport screening procedure for Ebola.
Yesterday, Public Health England confirmed all UK-based passengers and crew aboard the two flights taken by the nurse from Morocco and London have now been contacted by medical authorities and given advice.
Dr Peter Carter, chief executive and general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, said: ``It's sad and distressing to hear that Pauline Cafferkey is now in a critical condition as she receives treatment for Ebola.
“The thoughts of the entire nursing profession are with her and her family at this time.
“Pauline Cafferkey has shown incredible courage and commitment in volunteering to provide nursing care in Sierra Leone.
“The efforts of frontline health care workers like Pauline have been essential for containing the spread of Ebola, even though it means they themselves face considerable risks. Their bravery and their compassion is inspirational.”