An Italian doctor suffering from Ebola is in intensive care after his condition worsened, a spokeswoman for the hospital treating him said on Friday.

The 50-year-old Sicilian contracted Ebola while working for the humanitarian group Emergency in Sierra Leone, one of the countries worst hit by the virus.

The Lazzaro Spallanzani infectious diseases unit in Rome said the patient had to be given respiratory assistance on Thursday evening. His condition had improved slightly on Wednesday.

The doctor is the only Italian to have been diagnosed with the haemorrhagic fever, which has killed more than 6,000 of around 17,000 people infected so far, mostly in West Africa, during the worst outbreak of Ebola on record.

He was transferred to Rome, where he began being treated with an experimental drug never used before in Italy, and plasma taken from survivors of the disease.