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Canada to pull lab team helping combat Ebola in Sierra Leone

Canada’s public health agency is preparing to bring home a trio of scientists who were helping to combat Ebola in Sierra Leone

Olivier Matthys/Associated Press

Canada's public health agency is preparing to bring home a trio of scientists who were helping to combat Ebola in Sierra Leone after three people in their hotel complex tested positive for the viral hemorrhagic fever.

A Health Canada spokesman confirmed late Tuesday night that the Public Health Agency of Canada is finalizing plans to pull its mobile laboratory team out of the West African country.

"The risk that any of the three individuals is infected is very low," the spokesman said by e-mail.

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None of the team members had direct contact with any of the Ebola-infected individuals and they are not displaying symptoms of the disease, which has killed more than 1,400 people in four countries.

The scientists are voluntarily isolating themselves and will be monitored closely after they arrive back in Canada.

"The Agency remains committed to helping in the response to this outbreak and is preparing to send another team to Sierra Leone once appropriate steps have been taken to ensure a safe living environment," the spokesman said.

The Canadian team from the National Microbiology Lab in Winnipeg is the third to be deployed to Sierra Leone since mid-June.

Canada's mobile lab staff had been helping to control the outbreak by rapidly diagnosing or ruling out cases of Ebola in Kailahun, a deeply forested area near Sierra Leone's border with Guinea, where the outbreak began. The mobile lab was supporting a Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) treatment centre erected in the jungle.

Canada's decision comes on the same day the World Health Organization announced it was temporarily pulling its staff out of Kailahun after a member of the WHO team, a Senegalese epidemiologist, became infected with Ebola.

The United Nations public health agency said it planned to investigate how the epidemiologist acquired the virus – which is transmitted by contact with bodily fluids, not through the air – and then reassess when it would be safe for WHO healthcare workers and support staff to return to Kailahun.

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The NML – which is home to the only biosafety level 4 containment facility in the country – has sent its mobile lab to assist in quelling past Ebola outbreaks elsewhere in Africa.

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