Edinburgh’s new Ebola testing laboratory has tested eight blood samples since it was established on December 1.
The laboratory at the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary was established to speed up the process of getting test results for patients in Scotland, as previously specimens had to be sent to a facility in England.
So far all the samples have tested negative apart from that of nurse Pauline Cafferkey, who is still being treated at the Royal Free Hospital in London for Ebola.
The unit in Edinburgh is equipped to test for four kinds of Viral Haemorrhagic Fevers (VHF), including Ebola and Crimean Congo Haemorrhagic Fever, a case of which was diagnosed in Glasgow in 2012.
Once a blood sample arrives a result can be known within around six hours, with the facility providing a round-the-clock service.
The Scottish Government asked NHS Lothian to establish a facility to test for VHF fevers at its existing laboratory in Edinburgh.
Public Health Minister Maureen Watt visited the laboratory today to meet staff and see how it operates.
She said: “Scotland is well prepared to cope with any suspected Ebola cases, and the establishment of this facility is just part of that preparation.
“Once the scale of the west African Ebola outbreak became known, we felt it was important for Scotland to have its own testing facility so we could deliver quicker results and reduce the time that patients have to wait.
“The vast majority of tests are carried out on a precautionary basis, as the number of negative tests shows. The risk to Scotland from Ebola remains very low. It can only be transmitted through contact with an infected person’s body fluids. However, that doesn’t mean that it isn’t an anxious experience for patients, so it’s valuable to be able to turn around the results in a shorter time span.
“Of course, our thoughts remain with Pauline Cafferkey, who continues her treatment at the Royal Free in London. There are many brave men and women who have travelled from Scotland to help tackle Ebola in western Africa.
“The best way of preventing the spread of this disease is to bring it under control in the affected countries, so we all owe them a debt of thanks for their courageous actions.”
Ms Cafferkey was diagnosed with Ebola after returning from Sierra Leone. She was initially admitted to Glasgow’s Gartnavel Hospital on December 29, then transferred to London the following day.
The nurse, from Cambuslang in South Lanarkshire, had volunteered with Save the Children at the Ebola Treatment Centre in Kerry Town, Sierra Leone, before returning to the UK.
Before the unit in Edinburgh was established, blood samples were sent to the facility at Porton Down in Wiltshire
Health workers and other returning personnel who have had contact with Ebola patients are screened on their return at airports in London, Birmingham and Manchester, as well as St Pancras railway station in London.
Depending on their level of risk they are then asked to monitor their temperature on a daily basis for 21 days, and to report the temperature to local health protection teams.
If they report a raised temperature, or other symptoms, they may be brought to one of Scotland’s three regional isolation units and a blood sample sent to Edinburgh for testing.