Suspected Ebola case in Australia – experts respond

EbolaA 25 year old Australian man, who has recently returned from a visit to the Ebola-affected Congo, has been admitted to a Gold Coast hospital after experiencing Ebola-like symptoms.

It has not yet been established whether the man actually has the deadly virus.

For background on the virus from earlier Science Media Centre round ups, see here and here.

Our colleagues at the Australian Science Media Centre have rounded up the following expert reaction to the news. Feel free to use these quotes in your stories. Further comments will be posted here as they are received. If you would like to speak to a New Zealand expert, please don’t hesitate to contact the Science Media Centre NZ.


Dr Grant Hill-Cawthorne is from the Marie Bashir Institute for Infectious Diseases and Biosecurity at the University of Sydney.

“Any patient suffering from a fever and who has returned from a region affected by Ebola within the last 21 days should be investigated. Affected regions now include those in the large West Africa outbreak (Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Senegal and Nigeria) and the Democratic Republic of Congo which has a separate outbreak. At present we do not know what this gentleman’s risk is – whether he has come into contact with bodily fluids or handled clinical specimens from a patient with Ebola, or whether he has additional symptoms of Ebola such as marked vomiting, diarrhoea, bruising or bleeding.

“The Queensland public health authorities are following national guidelines and isolating the patient as a precaution. While we have little information to go on, there are a number of infections that could present in a similar way to Ebola, including malaria. Therefore all diagnostic avenues are likely to be explored while precautions such as isolation are observed. The risk to other patients and hospital staff in Australian hospitals is very low due to the good infection control practices that will be carried out.”


Associate Professor Sanjaya Senanayake is a practising infectious diseases physician at the Australian National University Medical School.

“A man in his twenties has been taken to a hospital in the Gold Coast with paramedics apparently alerting the hospital of the possibility of Ebola virus infection prior to his arrival. He has returned from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) where an Ebola virus outbreak, separate to the large West African outbreak, is occurring. However, at this stage, it is unknown if the young man actually has Ebola virus infection. The outbreak in the DRC appears to be in a remote area and is being successfully contained according to reports. So he is unlikely to have encountered it if he visited large urban areas of the DRC. Also, the early symptoms of Ebola virus infection are very non-specific. They can be seen in malaria, influenza and a variety of other infections; therefore, there are a number of other possibilities that doctors will consider when working him up for this illness.

“In recent weeks, health jurisdictions in Australia have been developing protocols to deal with this exact situation i.e. the sick returning traveller with possible Ebola virus infection. Even if this isn’t Ebola virus infection (which it hopefully isn’t for the young man’s sake), this case will give the health service an opportunity to see if the protocols can be successfully implemented or have steps that still need to be ironed out. Feedback of the outcome of this by the Gold Coast hospital to other health jurisdictions is important so everyone can tighten their protocols in the event of another case appearing on our shores.

“But once again, this case highlights how easy it is for someone with a contagious infection to get on a plane and travel halfway across the globe. It is important that nations outside the Ebola-affected regions have rigourous measures in place to deal with such a scenario.”