Health officials have decided not to start screening for deadly ebola infection among passengers arriving in New Zealand, despite the seriousness of the outbreak of the viral disease in West Africa.

Screening of passengers at points of entry was not recommended by the World Health Organisation, said New Zealand's director of public health, Dr Darren Hunt.

He said the WHO considered screening very unlikely to detect anyone arriving with ebola virus, which had an incubation period of 2 to 21 days and symptoms that were not specific.

The current outbreak of Ebola has killed more than 670 people in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, according to the WHO. One death - of an American man originally from Liberia and who was working for the Liberian Finance Ministry - has occurred in Nigeria, sparking fears of the further spread of the virus. The outbreak began in Guinea in February.


Britain's chief scientist, Sir Mark Walport, told The Daily Telegraph that deadly foreign diseases like ebola were a "potential major threat" to Britain.

"The UK is fortunate in its geographical position. We're an island," he said. "But we are living in a completely interconnected world where disruptions in countries far away will have major impacts."

England's public health service has warned doctors to watch for signs that the virus had spread there.

Dr Hunt said the risk of ebola infection for travellers was very low since most human infections resulted from direct contact with the body fluids or secretions of infected patients.

The Ministry of Health advised travellers who felt unwell shortly after returning to New Zealand to seek medical attention and tell their doctor or nurse where they had travelled.

He said that in the very unlikely event that New Zealand had cases of ebola virus disease, the ministry would respond as it would to other emerging health threats, through processes such as those in the National Health Emergency Plan.