HALIFAX – Health officials in Nova Scotia have been meeting and discussing possible scenarios in the event the Ebola outbreak reaches Canada.
The outbreak in West Africa is the largest and deadliest in the disease’s history. The World Health Organization has declared it an international public health emergency.
Over the weekend, a patient who had travelled to West Africa was kept in isolation at a hospital in Brampton, Ont. with symptoms associated with Ebola. Tests later showed he did not have the disease, but the case has prompted officials elsewhere in Canada to think about their contingency plans.
“It certainly makes us think about the arrangement we might want in place here in Nova Scotia,” said Dr. Frank Atherton, the province’s Deputy Chief Medical Officer of Health.
Health officials from Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island have worked together to develop a memo for healthcare workers to inform them of the symptoms and risks of Ebola.
READ MORE: What you need to know about Ebola
Healthcare providers are advised to contact their regional Medical Officer of Health if they encounter a patient with symptoms and if the patient has returned from an affected country within 21 days of symptom onset.
At that point, an infectious disease specialist and medical microbiologist would be consulted.
“We’ve been talking to our laboratories about how we might test if we did have a patient we needed to assess, how we might test Ebola and how we might safely handle blood,” Atherton said.
However, Atherton stresses it would be very unlikely an Ebola case would spread to Canada due to travel restrictions and border controls in West Africa.
Airports, border officials and travellers are also being asked to be vigilant about recognizing and reporting symptoms associated with Ebola.
“When we talk about communicable diseases, we do need to pay attention to what happens in airports,” said Peter Spurway, Vice President, Corporate Communications & Airport Experience with the Halifax International Airport Authority.
He said the airport is equipped to quarantine aircraft and assess passengers in a segregated area. They also have nurses and paramedics who work on site.
But the airport will only enact a response under the direction of public health officials.
“They would outline a program for airports in Canada and we would take their direction and we would comply with whatever they asked us to do,” Spurway said.
“We have experience doing this with H1N1 and with SARS — and with each case, they came up to us and said, ‘we need you to take these steps with incoming passengers or the passengers in the terminal building’ and we have done that.”