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UK Ebola nurse 'concealed temperature'

August 18, 2016

Pauline Cafferkey faces disciplinary action over allegations she lied about her temperature to pass UK airport checks. She contracted Ebola in 2014 while working in Sierra Leone but wasn't diagnosed until later.

Pauline Cafferkey
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/empics/L. Ferguson

Britain's Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) alleged Thursday that 39-year-old Cafferkey "allowed an incorrect temperature to be recorded" on December 29, 2014, as she arrived back at London's Heathrow Airport from West Africa.

The NMC claims the Scottish nurse intended to conceal from Public Health England staff that her temperature was higher than 38 degrees Celsius (100.4 degrees F).

The Council said an investigation into Cafferkey's conduct was underway, with a case hearing scheduled for next month in Edinburgh.

"Since these proceedings began the NMC has worked closely with Ms Cafferkey and her representatives to reach an outcome that is fair and meets the public interest in this case," an NMC spokesperson said.

Nurse rushed to help

Cafferkey contracted the deadly virus in December 2014 while working as a volunteer for the charity "Save the Children" in an Ebola treatment facility in Sierra Leone at the height of the epidemic. She returned to London and then traveled on to Scotland before being diagnosed with the virus.

After a month in a hospital isolation unit, she recovered but fell ill again twice more from complications. Doctors found the virus persisted in tissues in her brain.

The NMC accused Cafferkey of not telling screening staff at Heathrow that she had recently taken a mild pain killer. She is also accused of leaving the screening area without reporting her true temperature.

Ebola in Sierra Leone
Ebola infected 14,000 people in Sierra LeoneImage: imago/Xinhua Afrika

The NMC has the power to strike her off the professional nurses register, which would prevent her from continuing to practice.

Volunteer tells different story

On Thursday, Britain's "Guardian" newspaper published an interview with an unnamed volunteer who returned to Heathrow in the same group as Cafferkey, who claimed that too few screening staff were stationed at the airport.

The volunteer claimed they were encouraged to take each others temperatures and complete the necessary forms. The volunteer said Cafferkey's temperature was taken seven times as it was too high. But she was eventually cleared to board her flight to Scotland. The volunteer alleged that it was Public Health England and not Cafferkey who exacerbated the public health risk.

Ebola killed more than 11,300 people and infected some 28,600 as it swept through Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea from 2013 in the world's worst outbreak of the disease.

The World Health Organization declared Sierra Leone free of the deadly hemorrhagic fever on March 17, Guinea on June 1, and Liberia on June 9.

mm/sms (AP, Reuters)