SKOPJE Doctors in Macedonia have "serious indications" that alcohol, not Ebola, may have killed a British man visiting the Balkan country, a senior health official said on Friday.
The official, who spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity, said doctors who initially treated the man suspected haemorrhagic fever, given his symptoms of fever, vomiting and internal bleeding.
The Ebola virus, which has killed nearly 4,000 people in West Africa since March, causes haemorrhagic fever.
"The minute they (doctors) suspected that, they alerted supervisors, who isolated the body," preventing doctors from carrying out an autopsy, the source said.
Now, he said: "We have serious indications from several places that he consumed large amounts of alcohol, so the theory that this might be the cause of death is very much in play."
The Skopje hotel where the Briton was staying remained in lockdown on Friday, guarded by police who have let none of the 25 people inside leave since Thursday. Ten more people are in isolation in hospital, including the ambulance crew.
Another Briton travelling with the man was quoted by a Macedonian news portal, Telegraf.mk, as denying he had been drinking heavily. "He drank, but no more than anyone else," he said.
If alcohol poisoning is confirmed as the cause of death, the episode would underscore the degree of panic and difficulty hospitals and governments face in responding to the threat of the disease spreading in Europe, with a nurse in Spain the first to have contracted Ebola outside of Africa.
Health officials in Macedonia say they were following guidelines issued by the World Health Organization, particularly after initial information that the man had recently travelled to Nigeria. Authorities said on Friday he had in fact last been in Africa six years ago.
"For three days he was closed in his hotel room, didn't go out and didn't eat. The maid was helping him dress," said Dr. Jovanka Kostovska of the Health Ministry's commission for infectious diseases.
Kostovska said on Friday initial tests suggested only a "small probability" the man died of Ebola, but that blood and tissue samples had been sent to Frankfurt for tests. The results are expected on Saturday.
(Writing by Matt Robinson; Editing by Janet Lawrence)