The Ebola virus has been ruled out in a patient who was placed in isolation at a Brampton, Ont., hospital as a precaution after showing flu-like symptoms and travelling from Nigeria, one of the countries grappling with the virus.
The patient at Brampton Civic Hospital underwent testing while the hospital put in place infection-control measures on the weekend, in the first test of the province's preparedness.
"I can now confirm a recent case that underwent testing at the National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg was found to test negative for Ebola virus disease," said Eric Hoskins, Ontario Minister of Health and Long-Term Care, in a statement released early Sunday morning. The media were informed about the isolated patient by a Peel Public Health official on Friday.
Mr. Hoskins said in his statement that he is glad to hear the patient is doing well and wishes him a speedy recovery. "Ontarians should know that we are fully prepared should any cases [of Ebola] appear in the province."
There are no confirmed cases of Ebola in Canada and the risk of an outbreak here is low. However, Ontario health-care providers have been advised by the ministry to consider Ebola as a possible diagnosis in patients that have visited Africa in the previous 21 days. A recent outbreak of the rare but deadly disease in the West African countries of Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia and Nigeria has killed nearly 1,000 people.
According to Dr. Allison McGeer, director of infection control at Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto, standard measures are taken in Ontario hospitals to prevent the spread of viral infections, including hemorrhagic fevers such as Ebola.
"There are other viruses like hepatitis C and HIV that are also risks, so we have a standard to protect people from body fluids. But viral hemorrhagic fevers are much more infectious and they also don't have treatments, so we tend to move to a higher level of precautions when managing specimens from the patients," she said.
The Ebola virus is not airborne and is spread through direct contact with bodily fluids such as blood, urine, saliva and diarrhea. Early symptoms of Ebola include fever, vomiting and muscle pain, and are similar to those of more common diseases such as flu and malaria.
Dr. McGeer said that given the vast differences between health-care facilities in West Africa and Canada, she felt the public did not need to know about the condition of the patient at Brampton Civic Hospital, which refused to answer media requests for information.
"The patient's condition is none of our business," Dr. McGeer said. "This is not a public health issue. It may be a media issue. It would be a public health issue if there were risks to the public health."
Since the Ebola outbreak in Guinea in March and the most recent onset in West Africa, patients in cities including New York and Hong Kong have also been isolated as a precaution and cleared of the virus. In the U.S., there have been about half a dozen recent cases where patients who travelled to the affected regions were cleared of Ebola, according to Tom Skinner, spokesman for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. At least one U.S. doctor is being treated for the virus.
"We at the CDC have gotten dozens of phone calls from state departments and hospitals, and we have a protocol or a questionnaire we go through to ascertain as much information we can, to determine what the potential risk for exposure really was," Mr. Skinner said. "Most of the time the state health departments or hospitals are the ones that decide whether information is going to be released."