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Two dozen hospitals in Northern Ontario were forced to cancel surgeries, postpone treatments and deal with other delays this week after a computer virus infected the electronic medical record systems housed at Health Sciences North in Sudbury.

The virus took the biggest toll on the region’s cancer programs, with many hospitals having to cancel scheduled chemotherapy and radiation appointments. The virus was first detected in the electronic medical record system for the cancer programs. For instance, the North Bay Regional Health Centre’s chemotherapy clinic was cancelled Wednesday through Friday because of the virus, with officials expecting to reschedule patients for treatment this weekend.

Dominic Giroux, chief executive officer of Health Sciences North (HSN), said the hospital would also be providing makeup appointments for patients whose chemotherapy and radiation sessions were cancelled this week. HSN also had to cancel six elective surgeries this week as a result of the virus and those will be rescheduled, he said.

Mr. Giroux said officials would begin restoring some of the systems on Friday and that the entire system could be back up in a matter of days. At HSN, 75 per cent of its systems were affected and it’s been a scramble to get the problem under control, he said, noting that “some staff have not slept much since Wednesday.”

The virus originated at another hospital in the northeastern region, but Mr. Giroux declined to identify the institution.

HSN serves as the main host for the IT systems of hospitals in northeastern Ontario. The virus – known as a “zero-day virus” because it was previously unknown and could therefore bypass anti-virus programs – was designed to corrupt data, Mr. Giroux said. Officials don’t believe there was any breach of personal information and have no evidence the virus was a ransomware attack.

The problem was detected on Wednesday morning and officials quickly took the systems offline to minimize the damage. All 24 hospitals were affected in some way: At 21 hospitals, the main electronic medical records system was down; at 12 hospitals, the main electronic medical record system for cancer programs was down; at 10 hospitals, the medical imaging system was down; and at four hospitals, e-mail and back-office services were affected.

The shutdown of electronic records led to delays across the board. For instance, health-care professionals had to manually carry test results from one part of the hospital to the other, which meant longer wait times for patients, Mr. Giroux said. Luckily, hospital admissions in Sudbury were lighter this week, which made the situation more manageable, he said.

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