Ebola scare in Queensland: Sue Ellen Kovack, Cairns nurse, being tested for deadly virus

AN URGENT medical assessment is being carried out at Cairns Hospital on a Queensland woman showing possible symptoms of the Ebola virus.

The state’s Chief Medical Officer, Dr Jeanette Young, said the 57-year-old nurse had returned to Australia on Tuesday after spending a month working at an Ebola hospital in Sierra Leone.

The woman has been identified as Red Cross volunteer Sue Ellen Kovack.

Sue Ellen Kovack.

Sue Ellen Kovack. Source: Supplied

Dr Young said a sample of the woman’s blood was being rushed from Cairns to Brisbane to be tested for the virus but the results would not be known until late night or early tomorrow morning.

“(When) she came back into the country, she was perfectly well,” Dr Young said in a press conference this afternoon.

Dr Jeanette Young, Chief Health Officer.

Dr Jeanette Young, Chief Health Officer. Source: News Corp Australia

“She hasn’t been out in the community at Cairns, she’s been isolated in her own home, testing herself homeisolated in her own home, testing herself.

“It wasn’t until this morning that she felt unwell. She rang up because developed a low grade fever of 37.6 degrees … that’s low grade we felt it important to come into hospital. We don’t know if she has (Ebola) but she has been exposed to people with the disease.”

Dr Young said it was virtually impossible for the nurse to have infected members of the public, including fellow passengers on her flight home.

Unlike the flu, Ebola was “not highly contagious as it cannot be caught through coughing or sneezing”.

“The community has absolutely nothing to worry about because the Ebola virus is very difficult to transmit — you need to be exposed to secretions such as vomit, diarrhoea or blood and she doesn’t have any symptoms,” she said. “There is absolutely no concern for any passenger on that plane, there is no risk to anyone on that plane.”

However, the nurse has a room mate, who is being monitored for symptoms of the disease.

Dr Young said it was protocol for the nurse to be in home isolation for 21 days and checking her temperature twice a day because she had been working in West Africa.

Dr Young said the woman had done media interviews before she travelled there.

“I think she’s an amazing lady to go to West Africa and provide that service,” she said.

Sue-Ellen Kovack.

Sue Ellen Kovack. Source: Supplied

“Importantly, she has reported that while in Sierra Leone strict Personal Protective Equipment procedures were followed at all times and were not breached at any stage.

“However, as her temperature does demonstrate a low-grade fever which can be symptomatic of Ebola virus disease, all necessary precautions are being taken.”

Dr Young stressed that the public would not be at risk if the woman did test positive for Ebola.

“While Ebola is a very serious disease, it is not highly contagious as it cannot be caught through coughing or sneezing; a person is not infectious until they are unwell with the disease,” she said.