Locals 'very angry' to hear from media, and not from HSE, that Ebola may have caused Donegal man's death

Dessie Quinn

The family of a man who died after he returned home from working in west Africa have said they heard from the media, and not directly from the HSE, that he may have contracted Ebola.

The man, named locally as Dessie Quinn, aged 43, from the Doorin area outside Mountcharles, had reportedly been working in Sierra Leone as an engineer with a telecommunications company before he returned home two weeks ago.

Parish priest of Mountcharles Fr Adrian Gavigan said Mr Quinn had apparently been suffering from malaria and that is what the family believe caused his death.

It is understood the family are hoping to get the results of the blood tests at around midday.

The HSE declined to comment on when the checks would be completed or when information would be passed on to the family and the public.

Relatives, friends and neighbours gathered at the home in Doorin late last night and Mr Quinn’s friend, who was with him in the hours before he was found dead, was also at the house.

Fr Gavigan told Highland Radio he was angry at how the family found out that Ebola was being considered as a possible cause of death.

"We heard this news flash yesterday evening that there was to be an investigation…But up to then we believed malaria was the cause (of Mr Quinn's death)," he said.

"I certainly was very angry yesterday evening that the nation was told before the family that there was going to be an investigation."

“It was told to the public, it was not told to the family,” he said.

“Truthfully I was angry. When I heard this report I went back down to the family home for the very reason that you’d wonder what are they thinking when they hear this.

“The family told me that they had no word at all from the Health Service Executive that this is what is being investigated. They could see I was pretty angry.”

Fr Gavigan added: “I am amazed by the approach. It is distracting for the family and it worsens their grief.”

Later, in a statement, the HSE insisted it maintained close contact with the Quinn family following the death and only issued the statement on the back of media reports.

“The HSE was in contact with some family members from the outset of the tragic situation yesterday,” a spokeswoman said.

“The story broke in the media just before 6pm yesterday at which point the HSE had to make a public statement on the matter, given the urgency and nature of a public health issue such as this.

“The HSE has expressed its sincere condolences to the family for their loss.”

Jonathan Ball, Professor of Virology at Nottingham University, said it was difficult to tell Ebola and malaria apart without laboratory tests.

Mr Quinn, the father of a five-year-old boy, was working with telecoms firm KN Network Services in the west African country where his brother Martin had also been based.

The company had brought all expatriate staff out of Sierra Leone as a precaution following the outbreak of Ebola.

The World Health Organisation has put the number of people infected with the deadly virus at 2,473. Some 1,350 have died since the disease was identified in Guinea in March and spread to Sierra Leone, Liberia and Nigeria.

Ebola has no cure and rigorous quarantine measures are used to stop its spread, as well as high standards of hygiene for anyone who might come into contact with sufferers.

Mr Quinn, whose girlfriend and son live in Dublin, had returned to his family home in Doorin, Mountcharles, Donegal, to spend time with relatives and friends.

Although he was being treated for malaria on his return, he was not an inpatient in hospital and was well enough to be out socialising with friends in the evenings before he died. He had gone to bed at a friend’s house on Wednesday night after complaining of feeling unwell.

Health chiefs are expecting the results of blood tests later today following a post-mortem examination at Letterkenny General Hospital.

Mr Quinn’s body remains there, isolated in the mortuary.

The Health Service Executive said it is investigating the death for suspected links to Ebola as a precaution and that the risk of transmission is considered to be “extremely low”.

It also said that appropriate infection control procedures have been put in place in the community as a precaution.

Scores of locals in the townland of Doorin called at the family home throughout the day yesterday to offer condolences, and relatives were not informed of any restrictions or precautionary measures.

Dr Darina O’Flanagan, head of the HSE Health Protection Surveillance Centre, said someone would have to be in very close personal contact with an infected individual or their body fluids for there to be any risk.

“We await the outcome of the laboratory tests before we will know whether or not this individual had contracted Ebola virus disease,” she said.

“The appropriate public health guidelines are being followed at every stage in this process as a precaution.”

Mr Quinn’s brother Martin had also worked in Sierra Leone for a number of years but left before the start of the year.

It is understood the engineer told people he was tested for the Ebola virus on leaving the west African country.

He has nine brothers, two of whom are returning from Australia for the funeral, and three sisters, one of whom has come home from New York.

KN Network Services issued a statement expressing its deepest sympathies.

“Dessie was an extremely hard-working and valued member of staff and was very popular with all his colleagues and he will be missed by everybody who worked with him,” the company said.

The firm said it has offered support to the family in Donegal and is liaising with Mr Quinn’s colleagues from Sierra Leone about the necessary support, updates, precautions and company contacts ahead of the blood test results.

“KNNS have also had ongoing contacts and discussions with HSE’s Health Protection Surveillance Centre. The company had already returned all their staff from Sierra Leone as a precaution,” the firm said.

KN Networks Services said all its remaining staff in Sierra Leone were removed from the country last Saturday and were screened for Ebola on their departure.

There were no positive tests or signs of symptoms for the disease, a company spokesman said.

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