WATCH: Human trials of a Canadian vaccine for Ebola are underway in a Maryland lab. Thirty-nine American volunteers are a part of the critical testing that could potentially stop the devastating outbreak in West Africa. Aarti Pole got a behind the scenes look inside the facility.
TORONTO – How does it spread, can it mutate and what are the chances of an Ebola outbreak in Canada?
Health officials around the globe are grappling with the world’s largest and longest Ebola outbreak in history. It’s spreading through West Africa, but isolated cases have now popped up in the U.S. and Spain.
We spoke with three experts Thursday in a live chat. Here are five answers to some of your questions.
Read the full chat here: Blog replay – Canadian experts answer your questions about Ebola
Dr. Tim Jagatic is a Windsor, Ont. doctor who has worked in both Guinea and Sierra Leone with Médecins Sans Frontières in Ebola response this year.
Dr. Brian Lichty is a professor at McMaster University’s Immunology Research Centre.
Jason Tetro is a Canadian microbiologist and author of The Germ Code.
Question: What will happen if a case or two were to pop up in Canada? What are the chances it’ll turn into an outbreak?
The chances of having an outbreak in Canada are slim to none. We have very strong public health infrastructure, we have an educated general population that understands disease transmission and I think everyone would do their part to decrease their own risk of infection. Not to mention the basic things we do on a daily basis such as washing hands and keeping our distance from people who are visibly sick are probably the most effective methods to prevent transmission of Ebola.
It’s unlikely and I would almost suggest nil. The public health system is designed to keep the number of contacts low and to ensure the monitoring is done effectively.
Question: Why aren’t global officials cutting off flights out of West Africa? Wouldn’t this halt the spread into other parts of the world?
Answer: The concept of stopping flights may seem like a good one but there is no evidence to suggest it will help. Much like a leaking container, if you simply patch up the holes, you are not taking care of the actual problem…this needs to be contained at the source.
It’s very important to understand such seemingly black and white measures simply won’t work. It will increase the amount of chaos on the ground because people forced into quarantine-like measures do not respond well to being put in that position.
Furthermore it’s impossible to keep millions of people in one spot, if they want to get out, they’ll find a way out, so the situation we’d find ourselves in is one where people flee an area they were supposedly quarantined in, will be afraid of showing themselves to the proper authorities in the case they develop symptoms, not get the proper treatment and potentially spread the disease further.
It’s very important to maintain compassion and develop a sense of trust with people to put an end to this outbreak.
Question: What, if any, personal protocols can I follow while travelling by air throughout Canada and the U.S.? I know that cabins probably aren’t gas-sanitized or sprayed down between flights, and air is recirculated. How is this safe for travellers?
Answer: You are most certainly safe. As we saw in the case of the Liberian who traveled to Nigeria, there was no spread of the virus to any passengers. You have to be within 3-6 feet of an infected person who is shedding (vomit, diarrhea,blood) in order to be at risk. That being said, if you have a scarf (fashionable mask) and hand sanitizer or wipes, you can keep yourself safe from the myriad of other infectious diseases on the plane.
Travelling across Canada and the U.S.. by airplane is very safe, you do not have to worry about aerosolized Ebola on an airplane. It is very important to remember the mode of transmission which is through close contact with bodily fluids. I understand the fear associated with the virus but when you remember simple facts about it, it really helps to quell any fears.
Question: What will happen if it gets to Canada? Will the hospitals be ready?
Answer: Canadian hospitals are doing their due diligence about the disease right now. They are currently going over their strengths and weaknesses and determining what changes have to be made to make them prepared for the potential case that might make its way here.
If a suspected Ebola patient does show up in the ER, the procedures are in place (thanks to the SARS Commission) and as we have seen over two dozen times, adhered to everywhere.
Question: An overwhelming amount of readers are worried about the virus mutating so that it’s spread through the air or water. What are the chances of this happening?
Ebola is not airborne. In the settings we work in we prevent it from entering the waterways, but it doesn’t have the ability to live outside of the body for a very long time so it would be difficult for it to contaminate through water.
Neither have been shown to be route of transmission. It comes down to infectious dose. In both water and air, the viral load is small such that infection cannot happen. It’s a matter of physics.
WATCH: The chief clinical officer for Texas Health Resources apologized Thursday for not correctly diagnosing Ebola victim Thomas Eric Duncan’s symptoms.