TORONTO — Canada’s Health Minister and the head of the Public Health Agency of Canada say the country has been preparing in case an Ebola case arrives in Canada.
Rona Ambrose and Dr. Gregory Taylor insist the risk of that happening remains low, but say much work has been done to beef up the country’s ability to respond should it happen.
The two spoke at a news conference called to address concerns raised by Tuesday’s announcement that a Dallas, Texas, hospital diagnosed Ebola in a man who recently travelled to the state from Liberia, one of the hardest hit countries.
Taylor says the Public Health Agency has worked with Canada Border Services Agency and with airlines to advise them on what to do about passengers who appear to be ill while flying or when trying to enter the country.
Hospitals have been alerted to be on the lookout for possible cases among people who have travelled to West Africa.
Taylor says the Public Health Agency is considering sending doses of an experimental Ebola vaccine to hospitals that have been designated to look after Ebola cases if they occur, so health-care workers could use it if they have a risky exposure to a patient.
The vaccine was developed at the agency’s National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg.
Provincial laboratories are working to develop the ability to test for Ebola, with Quebec’s facility already capable of doing so, Taylor says. Provincial labs in Ontario, British Columbia, Alberta and Nova Scotia will soon be able to test for the virus as well, he says.
“They can rule out Ebola very, very quickly,” Taylor says. “And if they get a preliminary positive they will ship that to our laboratory (in Winnipeg) and we will do a definite positive to be absolutely certain. And that’s part of the preparedness in case somebody does get through, comes to Canada with Ebola.”
Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea are struggling under the largest Ebola outbreak the world has ever seen. The outbreak, which probably started last December, went unnoticed until March in a part of Africa where Ebola had never been seen before, but sudden deaths aren’t uncommon.
The World Health Organization’s latest figures — released Wednesday — suggest at least 7,178 people have been infected with the virus and nearly 3,338 have died. Before this outbreak, the largest outbreak of Ebola involved fewer than 450 cases.