News / Ottawa

'Negligible' risk of Ebola virus hitting Ottawa: health officials

The risk of the Ebola virus spreading from the United States to Ottawa is “nonexistent” say local health officials, but hospitals are still on high alert for any potential cases.

Tuesday’s news that the viral disease infected one patient in Dallas, Texas should not worry anyone in Ottawa, said Dr. Rosamund Lewis, associate medical officer of health with Ottawa Public Health (OPH).

“The risk of it spreading from Dallas is negligible. It’s nonexistent, really,” she said.

Still, OPH has been in contact with local hospitals, the Champlain Local Health Integration Network, immigrant communities and universities for any potential Ebola cases in the city.

Dr. Lewis said the bigger concern is with people travelling to Ottawa from areas in West Africa where there has been an Ebola outbreak (Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Nigeria and separately the Democratic Republic of Congo).

Travelers landing in Ottawa from these countries should tell their doctor and OPH. Then they should monitor their temperature twice a day for 21 days for early signs of illness. The virus shows symptoms between two and 21 days after exposure.

Early symptoms of the Ebola virus are akin to the regular flu: fever, headaches, sore throat, vomiting and chest pain. But in the later stages, it turns to hemorrhagic fever, which can cause internal and external bleeding or death.

The disease is not airborne, but can be spread through bodily fluids. At the early fever stage, the risk of spreading the illness is relatively low.

University of Ottawa mathematics and medical professor Robert Smith said he’s “absolutely” concerned about an outbreak in Ottawa.

“We are very bad at containing diseases and the increase in global travel has only made this more likely,” he wrote in an email. “An outbreak like this is a ticking time bomb."

But his colleague Dr. Earl Brown, an emeritus professor at the university’s Faculty of Medicine, said Canada is better prepared for disease epidemics since the SARS outbreak in 2003.

“I think Canada is more sensitized than many countries and I think a lot more procedures (are) in place, so I wouldn’t be quite so pessimistic as Dr. Smith,” he said.

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