GPs are being asked to watch for symptoms of the Ebola virus in UK patientsCDC/ Dr. Frederick A. Murphy

Every doctor in Britain has been warned to look out for symptoms of the killer Ebola virus that has claimed more than 460 lives in West Africa.

GPs have been sent guidelines on how to cope with cases of the virus which has affected areas such as Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

Health officials at the UK's port authorities have also been asked to check for symptoms of people returning to the country after visiting families in West Africa and Sierra Leone.

They are concerned in particular about an influx of visitors from those regions this month for the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow.

"The risk to travellers and people working in these countries of contracting Ebola is very low, but we have alerted medical practitioners about the situation in West Africa and requested they remain vigilant for unexplained illness in those who have visited the affected areas," Dr Dilys Morgan, head of gastrointestinal, emerging and zoonotic diseases at Public Health England, said.

She added that people returning from Guinea, Liberia or Sierra Leone who have symptoms (such as fever, headache or sore throat) within three weeks of their return should immediately seek medical help.

Doctors have also been dispatched to help affected areas in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

The deadly disease started in Guinea's Guekedou region in February and has since spread to Sierra Leone and Liberia infecting some 750 people.

Dr Lisa Ford, clinical advisor at the National Travel Health Network and Centre (NaTHNaC), said: "It is important to stress that no cases of imported Ebola have ever been reported in the UK.

"The risk to a traveller going to West Africa of contracting Ebola is very low without direct contact with the blood or body fluids of an infected person."

The disease was first identified in 1976, and outbreaks have continued since then.

It can be caught via infected blood or body fluids of an animal or person. The onset of illness is sudden, with fever symptoms followed by diarrhoea, vomiting, rash, impaired kidney and liver function and stomach pain.

The exact source of Ebola virus is not known but the virus is thought to come from fruit bats.

Timeline of Events:

  • February 2014 - Outbreak of a haemorrhagic illness in south-east Guinea
  • March 2014 - Outbreak of Ebola confirmed in south-east Guinea
  • Later that month, tests confirm Ebola has spread into Liberia
  • May 2014 - Sierra Leone confirms Ebola has spread to the Kailahun district, in the east of the country
  • June 2014 - Médecins Sans Frontières declares the Ebola outbreak to be out of control
  • July 3 2014 - Death toll: Guinea, 303. Liberia, 65. Sierra Leone, 99. Total number of deaths in West Africa, 467

Source: PHE