Ebola fears after woman falls ill

Canadian doctors check Congalese visitor for deady virus
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The Independent US

A Congolese woman who arrived in Canada and fell ill is being tested for hemorrhagic viruses, including Ebola.

A Congolese woman who arrived in Canada and fell ill is being tested for hemorrhagic viruses, including Ebola.

The identity of the 32-year-old woman has not been released. She was admitted to a Hamilton hospital, in Ontario, on Sunday and has been described as drifting in and out of consciousness.

The viral hemorrhagic fevers suspected are a group of contagious tropical infections that are life-threatening. Doctors say the illness could also be meningitis, an infection of the fluid of the spinal cord and brain.

Blood samples have been sent to a Winnipeg laboratory and the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, officials said. Results are expected tomorrow.

The sick woman arrived Saturday at Toronto's Pearson International Airport on Air Canada Flight 735 from Newark International Airport in New Jersey, airline spokeswoman Laura Cooke said. The flight had 39 passengers and five crew members.

Her flight to New Jersey had set off from Ethiopia, but it was not clear how she got to Ethiopia from Congo, The Toronto Star newspaper reported.

In the United States, a spokeswoman for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the patient exhibited no symptoms of illness during her trip, making the risk that fellow travelers could contract a fever like Ebola "very, very low."

Canadian health authorities asked for a list of passengers, but also "advised us they do not consider this passenger to be contagious for casual contact," Cooke said. The flight's crew members have been notified, but no special steps for them were ordered or taken, she said.

"We've been told there's no specific health concern," she said.

The woman was brought Sunday to Henderson General Hospital in Hamilton, where she was staying. She become ill after arriving in Hamilton, said Dr Monir Taha, a city public health official.

"This is a fortunate aspect because it means we do not have to worry about there being risks in the travel settings," Taha said.

Dr Colin D'Cunha, an Ontario medical official, said the illness could be Crimean-Congo fever, one of the viral hemorrhagic fevers. Malaria and meningitis were other possibilities, he said.

"It's a game of probabilities until the test results come back," D'Cunha said.

If the illness is Ebola, it would be the first human case of the fever in North America.

Aware that a possible Ebola case could cause public concern and even panic, Canadian officials were stressing the fever can only be passed through bodily fluids such as blood, saliva or semen. There is no cure.

"She arrived Saturday, so the circle of contacts is limited," D'Cunha said. "Based on information at this time, I wouldn't say the danger is zero. But it would be misleading to say it's a lot. The evidence is pointing to minimal."

The stricken woman was being kept in isolation, and staff members wear gowns, gloves, face shields and masks when treating her, said Dr Mark Loeb.

Loeb said the woman's symptoms were "possibly compatible" with Ebola and other hemorrhagic fevers.

A recent Ebola outbreak in Uganda killed 173 of the 426 people who fell ill.