Manitoba

National Microbiology Lab in Winnipeg gets $5M to expand Ebola containment lab

The federal government is putting millions more into Canada's National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg to help detect high-risk infectious diseases such as Ebola and other types of Avian influenza faster.

Health Minister Jane Philpott announces investment after meeting with lab staff

Ottawa is injecting $5 million into the Canadian Science Centre for Human and Animal Health in Winnipeg to expand its top-level containment labs, which deal with Ebola and MERS. (Trevor Brine/CBC)

The federal government is putting millions more into Canada's National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg to help detect high-risk infectious diseases such as Ebola and various types of avian influenza faster.

The $5 million will be used to convert  current Level 3 containment laboratory space to the "highest level of biosafety," the federal government said in a news release on Thursday. The facility already holds a Containment Level 4 lab, which will be expanded by the investment.

Health Minister Jane Philpott made the announcement at the Canadian Science Centre for Human and Animal Health, which houses the National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg. 

"I can say as health minister when I meet with other health ministers around the world they recognize the work of the laboratories in Canada, and there was a desire on behalf of scientists here and on behalf of public health officials to expand," said Philpott who added plans for the project has been in the works for some time.

"And there's always a pressure to be able to do more," she said.

The increased space will help staff at the lab better respond to Ebola, Middle East respiratory syndrome and new types of avian influenza quicker amid the increased global demand for investigation of cases.

Containment Level 4 laboratories are equipped to diagnose, research and develop vaccines for Ebola and Nipah virus.

The expansion is going to allow us to move in new directions.- David Safronetz

David Safronetz, the chief of special pathogens, said scientists are happy about the expansion.

"It's a very exciting time for our program," he said.

"The expansion is going to allow us to move in new directions. We're going to have more space, more capabilities to not only do world-class research here but respond to different threats as they arise globally or should it ever occur on North American soil," Safronetz said.

The expansion will mean about 33 per cent more space for scientists working in the Level 4 containment labs.

Construction will be completed by 2020.

In November 2016 an employee at the level 4 lab was potentially exposed to the Ebola virus.

The worker noticed a split in his protective suit while working with pigs that had been exposed to Ebola. The worker was put in isolation for 21 days and was eventually cleared to return to work.

The government said emergency protocols for accidental exposure were implemented following the incident.

The Winnipeg facility is one of only a handful of North American labs handling pathogens that require the highest level of containment.

It also houses the Canadian Food Inspection Agency's National Centre for Foreign Animal Disease.

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