Canada taking steps to guard against spread of Ebola

The Public Health Agency of Canada says it's taking precautions to prevent the spread of diseases such as Ebola by screening passengers at key points of entry, while pointing out there have been no cases of the deadly disease in Canada.

World is 'looking out for this disease,' says Canadian with Doctors Without Borders

Health Canada's Public Health Agency and Canada Border Services Agency officials screen international travellers for signs of communicable diseases such as Ebola, the first line of defence in the spread of the disease. (CBC)

Canada's Deputy Chief Public Health Officer says the risk of an Ebola virus outbreak in West Africa spreading to Canada is very low.

Dr. Gregory Taylor said there are several reasons for that, not the least of which is geography.

"I think it's important to remember where Canada is in the globe," Dr. Taylor told CBC News Wednesday. "There are no direct flights (from West Africa) to Canada."

Taylor said border agents continue to keep a close eye on all travellers coming into the country, and will report anyone who appears to be sick.

And, he added, the federal agency is asking doctors across the country to ask a few more questions if a patient has symptoms that could be caused by Ebola. "Because the initial symptoms are very vague, it can be headache, or malaise, or sore muscles, or a fever, which can be a number of different diseases," Taylor said.

"What's key is a physician asking a travel history. 'Have you been to Africa? Have you been part of the relief effort?'"

The public health agency is also recommending that any health-care professional who recently returned from that region in Africa self-monitor for symptoms for 21 days.

Sandra Smiley, a Canadian with Doctors Without Borders in London, England, said those precautions mean an outbreak is unlikely to occur in Canada.

"It's very unlikely this disease will spread to a place like the U.K. or Canada simply because the world is on high alert right now, they're looking out for this disease," Smiley told CBC News.

There has never been a case of Ebola in Canada.

'Stretched to our limits'

Smiley has just returned from Sierra Leone, where Doctors Without Borders has three isolation units and many doctors on the ground.

"We really are stretched to our limits. We are doing all that we can at this point, but with each new outbreak location, you need to set up a treatment ward, you need to have contact tracing teams, you need to set up epidemiological teams, and that takes a lot of manpower and resources," she told CBC News.

Smiley said part of the problem is that the virus was virtually unknown in this part of western Africa, and most people weren't aware of the symptoms until it had already spread.

Canadian Katherine Mueller, who is with the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, has also just returned from Sierra Leone.

Mueller said part of her role while in Sierra Leone was to educate local healers and religious rulers on how to stop the outbreak from spreading further.

"In this part of the world, people are practising things like voodoo, they practise animism. So it's a very different mindset and way of thinking than what many of us believe in the West," she told CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning.

Canada is the second-largest donor of aid in responding to the Ebola outbreak.

The federal government has spent $1.41 million, which includes sending Canadian experts to the World Health Organization to help out.

Britain's foreign secretary said Ebola poses a threat to his country, and he's convened an emergency meeting Wednesday to discuss the possible spread of the virus.

According to the latest figures from the World Health Organization, 729 people have died from the Ebola virus as of July 27 in the West African countries of Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea and Nigeria .

with files from CBC's London bureau


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