As Canadian health officials mobilize in the wake of a recent coronavirus outbreak in China, Ottawa’s public health agency has created a webpage on its site that it says will be a “one-stop shop” with the latest information about the virus for residents.
There haven’t been any confirmed cases of the new coronavirus — which originated in central China — in the national capital, and no one has sought testing, either, the city’s medical officer of health said Friday.
But Ottawa Public Health (OPH) is aware people have questions about the mysterious new virus, and so the agency is focusing on informing residents about what is known at this time, Dr. Vera Etches said.
“Our page now will be a one-stop shop for the latest.”
The webpage, which went live Friday morning, covers the latest on reported cases of the new coronavirus in Canada (as of publication, the number remained at zero); the risk to Ottawa residents; how the local health unit is monitoring the virus; how to best prevent the spread of germs; the symptoms of the new coronavirus; and what to do if you believe you’ve been in contact with the virus.
At this stage, the only people who are considered “at risk” of a coronavirus infection are individuals who fall ill within two weeks of having visited the central Chinese city of Wuhan — where the first cases of the virus were reported — and individuals who have been “in close contact” with someone who contracted a respiratory illness within 14 days of visiting Wuhan.
Canada, however, is a “low-risk setting” for the virus — and that goes for Ottawa, too, Etches said.
“I don’t see a greater risk of transmission of novel coronavirus in Ottawa,” she said.
On Thursday, the federal health minister said that “five or six” people in Canada are under observation for signs they may have contracted the new coronavirus but that “the risk is low to Canadians.”
OPH applying ‘routine practice’ to new virus
The health-care system already has practices in place that should make OPH well placed to respond to any suspected cases of the new virus, Etches said.
“Our normal practice with our health-care partners is to, when people are sick and they present with a fever or a respiratory illness, ask about travel,” she said.
“We have a good system, good communication here to make sure that if a test is needed to rule out novel coronavirus, that’s organized with the hospital, with Public Health Ontario, with us at the local public health agency.”
If there is “enough suspicion” to warrant administering a test, OPH would “immediately” start working to identify any people who have been in “close physical proximity to somebody who’s a suspected case,” the chief medical officer explained.
Public health officials would then tell those “contacts” what to look out for and “how to respond if they do find themselves becoming ill.”
“That’s a routine practice we do with many different infectious diseases that, in this case, we’re applying it to this new virus,” Etches said.
In the event a test is administered, the results “can be turned around quickly” — within 24 hours, according to Etches. No other or new special equipment is needed for handling the virus, she confirmed.
If a case of the new coronavirus is confirmed in the national capital, OPH would “inform the public in a way that protected the privacy of individuals,” Etches said.
Travellers returning from affected areas should monitor symptoms
What OPH does want to hammer home at this time — echoing other Canadian health authorities — is that travellers returning from areas in China affected by the new coronavirus should monitor themselves for symptoms of respiratory illness for the next 14 days.
The agency’s webpage on the new coronavirus lists fever, cough and “respiratory symptoms” like shortness of breath and difficulty breathing as common symptoms of infection.
Coronaviruses are part of a large family of viruses with a wide range of severity. They include the common cold, but also more severe illnesses like SARS. So far, health officials do not believe the virus to be as deadly or contagious.
The virus, which is believed to have emerged from a seafood market in China, has killed 26 people and sickened hundreds of others.
Etches said local public health officials are connecting for weekly updates and also touch base a second time right before weekends. OPH is in contact with the Ottawa airport as well, she said.
“We’re communicating with regular teleconferences with our health system partners, with hospitals and paramedics and others so that people know that they have the latest information,” she said.
-With files from Global News’ Rachael D’Amore