Canada's Ebola Preparation Puts The United States (And Everybody Else) To Shame

The Ebola outbreak stemming from West Africa has the whole world nervous — understandably so, because the disease has a high mortality rate — but one country is keeping calm. According to its health officials, Canada is actually very well-prepared for an Ebola outbreak, with some saying that the country has led the rest of the world when it comes to handling outbreaks. And it's not just self-congratulatory talk; Canada has the proof to walk the walk.

The ongoing Ebola epidemic, which is, terrifyingly, the deadliest in recorded history, has claimed nearly 900 people since March. After breaking out in Guinea, it's ravaged its way through several West African countries, including Liberia, Nigeria, and Sierra Leone. And earlier this month, two infected Americans, both of whom were helping patients in Liberia, were brought back to the U.S. for treatment. Now that Ebola has crossed oceans, the fear of a multi-continent outbreak is mounting. Maybe now would be a good time for the world to look to our neighbor in the north, since Canada seems to have a solid track record for keeping diseases out.

"I'm not concerned. I already know that Canada is prepared," Jason Tetro, a microbiologist and author of The Germ Code, told CBC News. "In truth, we’ve led the world when it comes to being prepared for these types of outbreaks."

What's the basis for such a bold claim? Well, SARS, that other terrifying disease in recent memory. After Canada's outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome in 2003, the SARS Commission prompted health and city officials to establish an airtight system for handling possibly infected individuals.

Communication Is Key

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"We have a fully networked communication process that goes from the airline to Canada Border Services Agency to Public Health Agency of Canada to the individual health care facilities across the country," Tetro said. In other words, the network covers the entire route infected individuals would be traveling if they were to enter Canada, and every stop along the way will be fully prepared to handle the situation.

Another health official, infectious-disease specialist Dr. Dick Zoutman at Queen's University in Ontario, spoke of a similar communication system between health facilities.

"We have a protocol," Zoutman, who was a leading adviser during Canada's SARS outbreak, told the Calgary Herald. "We have updated all of the contacts in the province we would call if a patient gives us a history of having been in western Africa and has what could be interpreted as early signs, or later signs, of a hemorrhagic fever like Ebola."

Extra Emphasis on Travelers

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Canada's Health Minister Rona Ambrose and Minister of State Lynne Yelich released a statement to the press earlier this month regarding a possible Ebola outbreak on Canadian soil:

All points of entry into Canada are routinely monitored and travellers showing symptoms would be referred to quarantine officers who have the authority to implement public health measures under the Quarantine Act to protect Canadians.

Tetro added that any traveler who has been to a country known to be affected by Ebola will be flagged, along with everyone else on the flight.

"When you arrive, if you have developed symptoms of the flu, they don't even ask, they put you right into quarantine," Tetro told CBC News. "There are quarantine officers at every port of entry into Canada."

Just to be extra safe, airline and airport authorities are required to report sick travelers arriving from international cities to the quarantine officers.

Canadian Hospitals Are Well-Equipped

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Dr. Gregory Taylor, deputy chief public health officer at the Public Health Agency of Canada, released a statement last month:

Our hospitals in Canada have sophisticated infection control systems and procedures in place that are designed to limit the spread of infection, protect health care workers, and provide the best care possible for the patient.

Jay Keystone, a senior physician in the tropical disease unit at Toronto General Hospital, also expressed his confidence in Canada's hospitals. "We have excellent infection control," he told CBC News. "We have isolation techniques with negative pressure rooms, excellent mask, gowns, etc."

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