(Recasts with decision to fly patient home, adds details)
LONDON/FREETOWN, March 11 (Reuters) - Britain said on Wednesday a military healthcare worker had tested positive for Ebola while working in Sierra Leone and airport officials there said the patient would be flown home overnight.
“An investigation into how the military worker was exposed to the virus is currently underway and tracing of individuals in recent contact with the diagnosed worker is being undertaken,” Public Health England said in a statement.
Airport officials said that a plane was due in at around midnight local time (0000 GMT) to transport the patient back to the United Kingdom.
Former coloniser Britain has sent nearly 800 soldiers to help organise a campaign to control the epidemic in Sierra Leone and to build treatment centres. In addition, hundreds of national health workers have volunteered to assist there.
Two Britons who contracted the virus have already been successfully treated at the Royal Free hospital in London, the country’s designated centre, and other healthcare workers have also been treated there.
It was not immediately clear why the patient would not be treated in the British Kerry Town Ebola facility near the capital Freetown which has a special section intended for infected healthcare workers and international staff.
Ebola has now killed nearly 10,000 people in the three worst-affected countries of Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia, and infected more than 24,200 people since the outbreak began in Guinea a year ago.
Rates of new infections have come down swiftly in recent months, however, and Liberia last week released its last known Ebola patient from hospital.
Sierra Leone remains the country with the highest rate of transmission and as of 10 March still had 127 patients in Ebola treatment centres across the country, according to a government health ministry report.
A clinical trial of Tekmira Pharmaceuticals Corp’s experimental drug TKM-Ebola-Guinea was due to start on Wednesday in Sierra Leone, Britain’s Wellcome Trust global health charity said. (Reporting by Kate Holton in London and Umaru Fofana in Freetown; Writing by Emma Farge; Editing by Michael Holden and Lisa Shumaker)