Canada Testing Woman Feared to Have Ebola

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http://dailynews.yahoo.com/h/nm/20010206/sc/canada_ebola_dc_1.html Tuesday February 6 4:46 PM ET Canada Testing Woman Feared to Have Ebola

By Ian Karleff

TORONTO (Reuters) - Canadian health officials fear that a sick woman who landed in Toronto on Saturday from a central African country, and is now isolated in a Hamilton hospital, could be the first person in North America to be infected with the deadly Ebola (news - web sites) virus.

Doctors were still without a firm diagnosis on Tuesday afternoon for the woman, who flew to Toronto from the Democratic Republic of Congo (news - web sites) via New York. She was admitted to Hamilton's Henderson Hospital on Sunday evening with ``serious'' symptoms.

Ebola, which appears within 21 days of contact with the virus, first emerged in the former Zaire in 1976 and has no known cure. Most victims die from shock after days of high fever, chest pains, vomiting and extensive bleeding.

``We still don't have a diagnosis. We are still using the worst possible scenario because of her travel history,'' said Mark Loeb, infectious diseases expert at Hamilton Health Sciences Corp.

Officials in Hamilton, a city of 360,000 some 60 km (40 miles) to the west of Toronto, told a news conference that samples of the woman's blood were flown to a special laboratory in Winnipeg on Monday and were also being sent to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (news - web sites) in Atlanta.

The woman has been quarantined in a sealed room. Health officials said she most likely came in ``close contact'' with only two people after her symptoms manifested, which was not until her arrival in Hamilton.

``We are satisfied now that she did not become ill until after her arrival in Hamilton. This is fortunate because it means there is no risk in the travel setting,'' said Dr. Monir Taha of the department of Public Health.

``Of the more serious diseases we are considering, they are difficult to transmit from one person to another...they need to be exposed to blood or other bodily secretions,'' said Taha.

Loeb said test results were expected by Thursday and could show anything from a bacterial infection like meningitis to hemorrhagic fever like Ebola.

Viral hemorrhagic fevers are spread through human excretions such as blood, semen, saliva and mucous but are not as contagious as other diseases such as tuberculosis, which is spread by airborne water droplets.

Federal Health minister Alan Rock told reporters that it is important for the public to temper speculation until the test results confirm a diagnosis, and stressed that the Ebola virus is not a contagious airborne virus.

``This is obviously something where precautions should be taken, but it's important not to speculate...and it can take up to 48 hours to make a diagnosis,'' said Rock, adding that health officials are following a contingency plan for infectious diseases established a few years ago.

Outbreaks of Ebola are unlikely to be repeated in Canada because of sufficient hygienic hospital supplies, said physicians at the Toronto General Hospital's center for tropical medicine.

No human cases of Ebola have been reported in North America.

The last major Ebola outbreak started in Uganda last September and killed 173 people.

Officials from the World Health Organization (news - web sites) said in Kampala on Tuesday that the epidemic appeared to have run its course -- no new outbreaks had been reported for 21 days -- although they would wait for another 21 days before giving the all-clear.

Douglas MacPherson, a Health Canada infectious-disease specialist in Hamilton monitoring the situation, said the World Health Organization has been notified about the tests for ebola and the risks of the disease.

-- K. Nolan (infosurf@yahoo.com), February 06, 2001

Answers

Headline: Ailing Woman Does Not Have Ebola, Canadian Doctors Say

Source: FoxNews.com, Wednesday, February 7, 2001 Preliminary tests show an ailing Congolese woman, who passed through New Jersey and Ethiopia on her way to Canada, does not have a case of the deadly Ebola virus, Canadian doctors said Wednesday.

However, it was not yet clear what the 32-year-old woman was suffering from, Dr. Mark Lobe, an infectious disease specialist, said at a news conference in Hamilton, Ont.

"This greatly reduces the likelihood that this patient has been infected with the Ebola virus," Lobe said. Further tests were being conducted.

The woman, who has not been identified, was admitted to Henderson General Hospital in Hamilton on Sunday, showing symptoms of viral hemorrhagic fever, indicating she might have one of a group of life- threatening, contagious tropical infections.

Blood samples were sent to a laboratory in Winnipeg, Manitoba, as well as to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, officials said.

Had the illness been proven to have been caused by the Ebola virus, it would have been the first confirmed case in humans in North America. It would also have left her flightmates wondering whether or not to panic.

The woman was in serious condition but is showing signs of improvement. Doctors said she had been drifting in and out of consciousness.

Prior to the test results, Lobe said the woman's symptoms were "possibly compatible" with Ebola and other hemorrhagic fevers. She did not show signs of bleeding from the ears, eyes or mouth, the hallmark of the Ebola virus that is lethal in 50 to 90 percent of cases and has wiped out entire villages in Africa.

A recent outbreak in Uganda killed 173 people.

Plane Stopped at Newark Airport

The flight carrying the woman, Air Canada Flight 735, arrived Saturday at Toronto's Pearson International Airport from Newark International Airport in New Jersey with 39 passengers and five crew members aboard.

The woman apparently came to Canada on a legitimate visitor's visa. The flight carrying her from Ethiopia to Newark continued on to Washington, D.C., The Toronto Star reported.

The woman's circle of contacts was limited enough to keep the risk of contamination low.

"Nobody on the flight noticed anything out of the ordinary about the woman, and she didn't indicate she was sick," Air Canada spokesperson Laura Cooke told the Star.

The Star reported that as many as 20 hospital workers and lab technicians were being monitored for signs of the disease, along with two people who had had close contact with the victim.

Ebola and the other hemorrhagic fevers are not transmitted through the air. Infection occurs through direct contact with the infected person's blood or bodily fluids such as saliva or semen, and that only after they have exhibited symptoms such as fever and malaise.

That's why it was a relief for health officials to learn that the woman did not fall visibly ill until after arriving in Hamilton on Saturday night. It was not until Monday afternoon that concerns about Ebola were raised and the woman was put into total isolation.

The Associated Press contributed to this report

-- Andre Weltman (aweltman@state.pa.us), February 07, 2001.


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