skpic dr. denise werker

Saskatchewan's Deputy Medical Health Officer Dr. Denise Werker briefs reporters on a suspected case of viral hemorrhagic fever in Saskatoon. (Trent Peppler/CBC)

A man who recently travelled in western Africa is in critical condition in hospital in Saskatoon, according to provincial health officials.

The nature of the illness was not released, but the man has a high fever, in addition to other symptoms. Officials say a diagnosis has not been confirmed.

Saskatchewan's deputy medical health officer Dr. Denise Werker  said Monday that the patient — who had visited Liberia — was being examined for a suspected case of viral hemorrhagic fever.

"Viral hemorrhagic fever is a generic name for a number of rather exotic diseases that are found in Africa," Werker said, noting one of the fevers could be Ebola.

Ebola virus

Ebola was first reported in 1976 in Congo and is named for the river where it was recognized. Ebola outbreaks were reported in Congo and Uganda in 2012.

The virus can be transmitted through direct contact with the blood or secretions of an infected person, or objects that have been contaminated with infected secretions.

The illness was serious enough that officials wanted people to know about steps that have been taken.

"Measures have been taken to isolate the patient to ensure the illness is not transmitted," officials said. "Public health officials believe the risk to the public is low, and are investigating."

Patient in isolation

According to Werker, depending on the nature of the disease, the people most at risk are health-care workers tending to the patient who do not wear protective clothing.

Werker acknowledged an outbreak of Ebola hemorrhagic fever has been identified in Guinea, Africa, and may have spread to Liberia.

Werker would not say which hospital in Saskatoon the patient is at in order to protect the man's privacy. He was doing work in Africa, although Werker did not know how long he had been there.

She added that people who may have come into contact with the man's body fluids, such as urine or saliva, have been asked to self-isolate and monitor their health and watch for any signs of fever.

Health-care workers are wearing goggles, masks, gowns, gloves and boots when around the patient.

Werker said officials believe the man was not ill at the time he travelled, noting a three-week incubation period is normal for Ebola and Lassa Fever, another one of the suspect diseases. He fell ill after arriving in Canada.

"For the most part, people are not very infectious or contagious in the incubation period," she explained. "This is when their body is becoming ill."

Werker said the course of treatment will depend on identifying the fever involved, and said that a preliminary finding could be available on Tuesday.

Lassa fever

Lassa fever is endemic in the rodent population in parts of West Africa. Person-to-person infections and laboratory transmission can also occur, particularly in hospitals without adequate infection control measures. It is treatable, but diagnosis and prompt treatment are essential.

The illness was discovered in 1969.

Werker was notified about the case late Sunday night and has reported it to national authorities.

"There is no risk to the general public," she repeated, when asked about the danger of Ebola. "We recognize that there is going to be a fair amount of concern and that is why we wanted to go public with this as soon as possible."

In addition to Ebola and Lassa, Werker said the other possible fevers could be Yellow Fever or Crimean Congo hemorrhagic fever.

"There's also a possibility that this person has another disease," Werker added. "So there may be more laboratory testing that may need to be done."