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Officials urge ‘Ebola’ reality check, after woman quarantined in Calgary

As health officials await results of the Ebola test for a woman quarantined in Calgary, they’re offering a reality check about the risk of an outbreak in Alberta.

“It would be unfortunate and irresponsible to suggest our facilities are anything but safe,” said Dr. Richard Musto, the Medical Officer of Health in Calgary.

“It’s unacceptable to suggest public should be fearful,” Musto added. “I implore you not to speculate. It’s inaccurate and unacceptable.”

For many, mere mention of the “e” word has the potential to induce panic.

The magnified images of the virus can seem unsettling and pictures of head to toe protective gear tend to make people uncomfortable.

Communications experts say it’s important not to blur the facts.

“We’ve seen pictures from Africa and we know it can be deadly, but we also know that more people in Calgary in this past month have come down with a (sexually transmitted infection), which if untreated could kill,” said Marc Chikinda, with the Faculty of Communications Studies at Mount Royal University.

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“It’s context,” added Chikinda. “Most people don’t know the context.”

He said the public sometimes doesn’t have the time to filter what they’re reading, listening and watching.

“It takes time to become informed and who in our society has the time,” Chikinda said.

“They have no excuse for not being informed. We have more sources than ever before in the history of mankind. But we are so busy with daily routines, we will fixate on a name, a word, a brief snippet. That becomes our reality, not the facts.”

Just a small sampling of people outside the South Health Campus was some indication of how many react to hearing the word ‘Ebola’.

“That’s quite the scare. I’ve got a really bad fever right now. I chill, I ache,” said Tim Kenney.

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“When I think Ebola, it’s a severe disease. I don’t know if they can cure it. When you see (it) on TV, (the) person (is) immobilized for a long time,” said Gilles Proulx.

“Immediate reaction is fear. Fear for children and yourself. Nobody wants to be infected with something as serious as that,” said Tracy Levy.

Calgary’s medical health officer stressed the low probability of a positive test in this case.

Dr. Musto said health workers are feeling confident about their preparedness and training to deal with Ebola.

That was echoed by the nurses’ union.

“With any infectious disease, you can’t always feel 100 percent, but there has been extensive training. Nurses and UNA is pleased with transparency with the ebola crisis,” said Daphne Wallace with the United Nurses of Alberta.

The best advice – which is identical to other pandemic health concerns – is that information is often the best protection of all.