WATCH ABOVE: US health officials are monitoring about 50 people for signs of Ebola who may have had contact with Ebola patient Thomas Duncan before he was admitted to hospital.
TORONTO – The Ebola virus is still spreading across West Africa. A single case has been diagnosed in the U.S., and Canadian officials have returned with only negative results in suspected cases.
What are the chances of an Ebola outbreak taking off in Canada? It isn’t likely, according to experts. And there are a number of reasons why.
“The fear we’re going to be submerged in a worldwide Ebola outbreak is an unbased fear that’s unlikely. There isn’t evidence this is spreading beyond in a way that should worry people living thousands of miles away,” Dr. Joel Kettner told Global News. Kettner is medical director of Winnipeg’s International Centre for Infectious Diseases. He was Manitoba’s chief medical officer of health from 1999 to 2012.
While the medical community is working hard to remind the public that the situation in Canada is completely different from West Africa, concern still exists.
Here are five reasons why an Ebola outbreak is highly unlikely in Canada.
There is trust in medical officials
At the onset of the outbreak, reports poured in from aid groups working on the front lines of Liberia, Nigeria, Sierra Leone and Guinea – the hardest hit regions.
Medicins Sans Frontieres doctors were chased out of villages, families hid their Ebola-stricken loved ones from health officials and survivors were stigmatized by their community.
“When the virus is being spread, there are ideas of witchcraft, of this being a government conspiracy. These types of ideas come forth before basic public health ideas,” Canadian doctor Tim Jagatic told Global News.
Locals told him: We noticed the people who go into your hospital don’t come out so we don’t want our family members to go with you.
In past outbreaks in Canada – SARS for example – the public complied with advice doled out by health officials, according to Dr. Michael Gardam, director of infectious diseases at the University Health Network.
Gardam remembers SARS: those who felt sick abided by recommendations to stay home, families avoided visiting their sick family members in hospital, and Ontarians were careful with hand washing and personal hygiene.
There are cultural differences
Ebola can only be spread to others after symptoms begin.
“You can’t share it with anybody. It happens only when it comes out through bodily fluids,” according to Jason Tetro, a Canadian microbiologist and author.
Victims are most infectious at death, but this is when their families are carrying out customary burial rituals. Reports suggest that part of the ritual is to kiss the body of their deceased loved ones and even share a meal in the presence of the corpse.
Doctors battling the outbreak have advised communities against this ritual but, in some cases, it’s pushed aside. They say that these funeral rites – which are uncommon in North America – largely contribute to the spread.
There is action taken with suspected cases
During an outbreak such as this one, there are special communications to and heightened awareness among health care providers.
The communication lines — between hospitals to provincial ministries, between provinces and Ottawa, and between agencies and the media to the public — are opened.
Think of last month’s suspected case of Ebola in a Brampton, Ont. hospital. It was widely reported on, while the hospital and Ontario health officials provided regular updates.
Those who have been tested for Ebola are kept in isolation and anyone who has come into close contact with them is followed up on – these precautions ensure that anyone who may be affected knows his or her status and halts potential spread in its tracks.
(In the U.S., the single diagnosed case saw the patient in isolation in hospital while his family was forced to stay home for the next 21 days – the longest period of time for incubation.)
Quarantine officers are at all of Canada’s international airports — Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto and Montreal, for example — and they work around the clock, seven days a week, according to the Public Health Agency of Canada.
And then there’s the Quarantine Act, which would help in detection and management of sick travellers. It requires travellers to report to CBSA agents if they’re ill upon arrival. Airlines and flight attendants are also required to report sick passengers coming off of international flights.
Our health care system is prepared for potential cases
Health officials in poverty-stricken West Africa already have an uphill climb in educating remote communities about Ebola and its spread. Medical care, isolation units and protective equipment are scarce. Think of the U.S. missionary – Dr. Kent Brantly – who was in a dire condition before he was transported back to the U.S. – what plagued him was dangerously low levels of electrolytes, which couldn’t be measured while he was in Liberia.
This isn’t the case in Canada, where hospitals are fully prepared for a potential case.
Post-SARS, protocol for nurses, doctors and paramedics changed dramatically and surveillance is now in place brokering intelligence on rising diseases that could pose a threat.
Hospitals have better ventilation, single rooms, and plexiglass walls that act as a barrier between emergency room front desks and sick patients.
Patients are now screened for a fever, cough or trouble breathing. They’re asked a critical, telling question: have they recently returned from another country?
Canada is sending resources to West Africa
Canada is sending a second mobile laboratory and the team to run it to West Africa in an effort to battle the Ebola outbreak, Health Minister Rona Ambrose announced Saturday.
The new team will help Medecins Sans Frontieres – Doctors Without Borders – figure out if cleaning techniques at treatment centres need to be stepped up to prevent infection of health-care workers.
Canada donated up to 1,000 doses of its experimental Ebola vaccine, put aid workers on the ground in West Africa and it’s already donated $5 million to the cause, including $2.5 million in protective equipment.