Airport staff tonight told of their fears of an Ebola outbreak after a passenger from Sierra Leone collapsed and died as she got off a plane at Gatwick.
Workers said they were terrified the virus could spread globally through the busy international hub from the West African country which is in the grip of the deadly epidemic.
The woman, said to be 72, became ill on the gangway after she left a Gambia Bird jet with 128 passengers on board. She died in hospital on Saturday.
Ebola has killed 256 people in Sierra Leone and a total of 826 have died in West Africa since the outbreak began in February.
Airport workers faced an anxious wait to see if the woman had Ebola. One said: "Everyone's just petrified." "We've all seen how many people have died from Ebola, especially in Sierra Leone, and it's terrifying."
Speaking of the horrific moment the passenger collapsed, the shocked staff member added: "The woman was sweating buckets and vomiting." "Paramedics arrived to try and help her. The next thing everybody was there... emergency crews, airfield operations, even immigration.
"They closed down the jet bridge and put the aircraft into quarantine. They took everyone's details, even the guy who fuels the aircraft."
The plane carrying the woman came from Freetown in Sierra Leone - a country with the highest number of victims from the disease. It stopped at Banjul in The Gambia before landing in Gatwick at 8.15am on Saturday after a five-hour flight.
Public Health England tried to allay fears of an Ebola breakout in Britain. It said the woman showed no symptoms during the flight. One official added: "Public Health England is aware a passenger arriving on a flight from The Gambia that landed at Gatwick airport on Saturday fell ill shortly after disembarking. The passenger was taken to hospital and sadly died. In line with standard procedures, tests are being undertaken to determine the cause of death. The patient's symptoms suggest that Ebola is very unlikely but as a precaution this is one of the tests being undertaken. The patient was not symptomatic on the plane and therefore there is no risk of Ebola being passed on to either flight crew or other passengers. England has world class health care and disease control systems which are active permanently, regularly tested and proven to be effective. As such, if the UK does see a case of imported Ebola, this will not result in an outbreak in this country."
South East Ambulance Service confirmed it had dealt with the sick woman at the airport.
Communications chief Janine Compton said: "We attended Gatwick airport at 8.30am on Saturday to attend an adult female patient who was seriously ill. She was taken to East Surrey Hospital in Redhill where she subsequently died."
Sheik Umar Khan
Dr. Sheik Umar Khan was a leading doctor from Sierra Leone specialising in viral haemorrhagic fever. He contracted the Ebola virus while treating patients who also had it, and died aged 39 from the disease. When it was announced that he had been infected, Sierra Leone's Health Minister called him a "national hero" for his tireless work. | Photo: Pardis Sabetti | Link | Sheik Umar Khan, Ebola, Sierra Leone,
A Gatwick airport spokeswoman added: "A passenger collapsed after disembarking a flight from the Gambia. She was treated by airport medical staff at the scene but died later in hospital. The cause of death is yet to be confirmed."
At around 11pm on Sunday, the Department of Health said that tests for the deadly Ebola virus on the woman who died at Gatwick had proved negative.
There is no cure for Ebola.
Symptoms in the later stages include external and internal bleeding, vomiting and diarrhea. At this point the disease is highly contagious. Victims have a 90% chance of dying, although doctors said in this epidemic the rate is 60%. The outbreak began in the forests of eastern Guinea in February. It quickly spread to Liberia and Sierra Leone.
A jump in the number of cases and the death toll has raised international concern and placed under-resourced health facilities in the West African nations under strain. Last week, the Ebola crisis was described as out of control by World Health Organisation chief Margaret Chan and could be "catastrophic".
At the same time, Sierra Leone declared a state of emergency and called in troops to quarantine victims. Liberia also imposed controls.
Ms Chan revealed 60 doctors, nurses and health care workers had now lost their lives trying to save others. She said: "This outbreak is moving faster than our efforts to control it. If the situation continues to deteriorate, the consequences can be catastrophic in terms of lost lives but also severe socio-economic disruption as well as a high risk of spread to other countries."
Ms. Chan met the presidents of Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Ivory Coast. She told them: "This meeting must mark a turning point in the outbreak response."