A Cairns nurse who travelled to west Africa to help Ebola patients is waiting for test results to see if she has contracted the deadly disease.
A Cairns nurse who travelled to west Africa to help Ebola victims is facing an anxious wait for results of tests which could confirm her as the first Australian to have contracted the deadly disease.
Sue-Ellen Kovack returned to Australia at the weekend after spending a month volunteering at an Ebola hospital with the Red Cross in Sierra Leone – one of the countries hardest hit by the virus that has already claimed almost 3900 lives across five west African nations.
The 57-year-old was admitted to Cairns Hospital on Thursday with a “low-grade fever” and was expected to know by late evening or early Friday whether she has the virus.
Red Cross Australia international program head Peter Walton said Ms Kovack was on Thursday evening in “good spirits” despite her perilous situation.
“She’s doing well, but obviously she just has to play a bit of a waiting game at the moment,” he said.
Queensland’s Chief Health Officer Dr Jeannette Young said Ms Kovack was in quarantine in Cairns Hospital and undergoing further assessment from infectious disease experts.
Dr Young also moved to allay public fears over the potential for the disease to spread, saying Ms Kovack had been isolated since developing the first signs of symptoms.
Ms Kovack lived with a flatmate, but it was unlikely she would have infected anyone else if she had the disease, Dr Young said, adding that the nurse didn’t display any symptoms that would have caused the infection to spread.
“Ebola virus is very difficult to transmit … you need to be exposed to secretions,” Dr Young said.
“She doesn’t have any symptoms producing those secretions, so therefore her risk of infecting someone else is very, very low.”
Amid rising concern about the potential for the disease to make it to Australia, Health Minister Peter Dutton on Thursday evening played down the need for greater screening at the nation’s borders.
But introducing screening in arrival halls can be problematic, he said.
“It provides a sort of air of complacency if you like,” he told the ABC.
“So people come through, they feel unwell a couple of days later and they think `no, no, I’ve just been through that screening process and I wasn’t picked up, I’m ok’.”
The world’s worst outbreak of Ebola has killed 3865 people out of 8033 infected so far this year, mainly in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, according to the latest count of the UN’s World Health Organisation.
Ms Kovack, a charitable nurse, had spoken with pride about the work she did in Sierra Leone, including taking blood from an 11-year-old Ebola survivor expected to be cleared of the disease.
“Scary moment but went smoothly,” Ms Kovack posted on Facebook in September.
“A pivotal moment for sure in my career.”
She also spoke about how anxious she was before she left, but wanted to help regardless of the risk.
The Red Cross praised the her bravery and the bravery of its 40,000 other volunteers who have helped in west Africa.
“We will do everything we can to support her at this difficult time,” Mr Walton said.
Australia has investigated three suspected cases of Ebola previously.
A woman, who had attended a conference in African, was released from quarantine at a Perth hospital on September 23 after being cleared of the disease.
A one-year-old child was cleared of any infection after being taken to a Melbourne hospital on September 19 with suspicious symptoms.
The child had returned to Australia from west Africa five days earlier.
A third suspected case on the Gold Coast was cleared by tests after a man claiming to have spent time in west Africa complained of vague symptoms while in police custody.
* The 57-year-old nurse flew to Sierra Leone last month to treat Ebola victims for the Red Cross
* She insists she followed strict protocols during her humanitarian efforts
* Upon returning to Cairns on Tuesday, Ms Kovack isolated herself as recommended by national guidelines
* During this time she checked her temperature twice daily
* On Thursday she demonstrated a low grade fever with a temperature of 37.6 degrees
* Blood tests are being rushed to Brisbane, with results due late Thursday or early Friday