Canadian health leaders moved to reassure the public Tuesday that the discovery of a case of Ebola in the United States does not change the assessment of the risk of the disease in Canada.
U.S. officials announced that the first case of Ebola diagnosed on North American soil had been identified in Dallas,Tex. The unidentified man recently travelled to the city from Liberia, becoming sick four days after he entered the U.S.
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Canada's federal, provincial and territorial health ministers meeting are meeting in Banff, Alta., on Wednesday, and had gathered in advance of that meeting, which is expected to deal with issues like e-cigarettes, dementia and prescription drugs.
Ontario Health Minister Eric Hoskins said the Canadian public should know this country's hospitals have some of the best infection control measures in the world in place.
"We are all deeply concerned about what is going on in the U.S.," Hoskins, a family physician, said in Banff.
"It is important to reassure Canadians — North America is not West Africa. We have right across this country, in every province and territory, we have extremely effective infection control measures in place and protocols."
Hoskins said surveillance for possible Ebola cases by public health officials has been heightened and health providers across Canada are being made aware of how to recognize and deal with any suspected cases.
Canada's new chief medical officer of health also insisted this country has been preparing for the possibility of imported Ebola cases.
"Canada is well prepared with a number of systems in place to identify and prevent the spread of serious infectious diseases like Ebola, such as working closely with our international partners to gather and assess information and administering the Quarantine Act at all points of entry into Canada," Dr. Gregory Taylor said in a statement.
'False alarm' cases in provinces have tested preparedness
"The Public Health Agency of Canada is working closely with its provincial and territorial partners and the agency's National Microbiology Laboratory is well connected with its network of provincial labs to ensure Canada is ready to detect and respond quickly."
British Columbia's chief medical officer of health said a number of provinces have already had some practice with suspected Ebola cases, having identified and investigated people who returned from West Africa with illnesses compatible with the early stages of Ebola. So far all these cases have turned out to be false alarms.
Dr. Perry Kendall said it is possible this country too will see imported Ebola cases, given the ongoing outbreak in West Africa. But he said he was confident health systems here could contain the virus.
"If Nigerians can manage to contain it, I'm pretty sure Canadians can," said Kendall, referring to the fact that Nigeria appears to have halted a chain of transmission that began there with an imported case in July. An infected man from Liberia travelled to Lagos for a conference, developing symptoms during his travels. Nigeria recorded 20 cases — and eight deaths — before the outbreak was done.
The World Health Organization says that so far nearly 6,600 people in West Africa have been infected in this epidemic and nearly 3,100 have died. A recently published modelling study produced by scientists at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control projects that between 550,000 and 1.4 million people could be infected by late January, if the response to the outbreak is not scaled up dramatically.