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Ebola threat goes global

Despite two returning US aid workers contracting Ebola in West Africa, and UK warnings that the virus is "out of control", why is Australia's Department of Health saying the chance of the disease getting here is low?

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London: Fears that the west African Ebola outbreak could spread to other continents is growing, with European and Asian countries on alert and a leading medical charity warning the epidemic is out of control.

The US Peace Corps said it was pulling all 340 volunteers from Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea because of the spreading virus, while Liberia said it would close schools and consider quarantining some communities, the toughest measures yet imposed by a west African government to halt the worst Ebola outbreak on record.

Customs officers are looking for people carrying the Ebola virus at Melbourne Airport.

Medical personnel demonstrate protective equipment to educate team members on the Ebola virus in Liberia. Photo: Reuters

Medecins Sans Frontieres said the crisis  would only get worse and warned there was no overarching strategy to handle the outbreak.

Hong Kong announced quarantine measures for suspected cases, although one woman arriving from Africa with possible symptoms tested negative, while the EU said it was ready to deal with the threat.

The International Civil Aviation Organisation  has held talks with global health officials on potential measures to halt the spread.

In Britain, Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond chaired the government's COBRA crisis management committee to assess the situation.

Security forces in Liberia were ordered to enforce the steps announced by the government on Wednesday, part of an action plan that includes placing all non-essential government workers on 30-day compulsory leave.

"This is a major public health emergency. It's fierce, deadly and many of our countrymen are dying and we need to act to stop the spread," Liberia's Information Minister Lewis Brown said. "We need the support of the international community now more than ever. We desperately need all the help we can get."

But highlighting international concern about the crisis, the US Peace Corps said it was withdrawing volunteers from the three African nations.

A Peace Corps spokesman said two volunteers were isolated and under observation after being exposed to a person who later died of Ebola.

"These volunteers are not symptomatic and are currently isolated and under observation," the spokesman said.

The US State Department has confirmed that one American died from Ebola in Nigeria after being infected in Liberia. Two other American aid workers infected with Ebola - Dr Kent Brantly and missionary Nancy Writebol - are in serious condition, but have shown slight improvement.

Ebola can kill victims within days, causing severe fever and muscle pain, vomiting, diarrhoea and, in some cases, organ failure and unstoppable bleeding.

Since March, there have been 1201 cases of Ebola and 672 deaths in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, according to the World Health Organisation.

The European Union is equipped and ready to treat victims should the deadly virus be found in its 28 member states, an EU source said in Brussels.

The first cases of this outbreak were confirmed in Guinea's remote south-east in March. It then spread to the capital, Conakry, and into neighbouring Liberia and Sierra Leone.

Concern deepened last week when a Liberian-American died from Ebola in Nigeria having travelled from Liberia. Authorities in Nigeria, as well as Ghana and Togo, where he passed through en route to Lagos, are trying to trace passengers who were on the same plane.

Some airlines in the region have cut routes to countries affected by Ebola, despite the World Health Organisation saying it does not recommend travel restrictions as a step to control outbreaks.

AFP, Reuters