"This is what we knew was going to happen," said Dr. Allison McGeer, director of infection control at Mt. Sinai hospital. "People get sick for a whole variety of reasons and if they come from West Africa, then it's important to rule out Ebola virus disease and that takes some time."
McGeer was speaking on CBC Radio's Metro Morning about a man treated late last week at Brampton Civic Hospital for flu-like symptoms. The man had recently visited Nigeria, one of the countries affected by an unprecedented outbreak of the deadly virus that has killed more than 960 people and prompted the World Health Organization to declare an international public health emergency.
The disease first emerged in Guinea in March and has since spread to Liberia and Sierra Leone. Health officials believe that cases in Nigeria are likely. There have so far been no reported instances of Ebola being transmitted from one patient to another outside of Africa in this recent outbreak.
The Brampton patient, whose named has not been released, was quarantined by hospital staff. On Sunday tests confirmed he was negative for the Ebola virus. The man, who is now doing well, had symptoms consistent with Ebola but are also similar to many other illnesses.
McGeer said similar cases in which patients are isolated while being treated in Canadian hospitals are likely to happen again.
"It's not surprising it happened," she said. "It's likely going to happen again somewhere in the GTA in the next few weeks or months.
'There was no risk to anybody's health'
"Although it was scary for a lot of people, what it should be is re assuring because it's a sign that the system is working, that those people are being identified, that they're being taken care of safely. There was no risk to anybody's health. There's a lot of interest in the case, but there clearly wasn't a risk."
McGeer said health officials are trying to strike a balance between keeping the public informed about the outbreak while taking care not to raise undue alarm.
"I think it's been really hard for public health officials to try to create the right level of concern," she said. "This is a global health emergency. People in West Africa desperately need our help to bring this under control."
McGeer said Ebola, which spreads though contact with bodily fluids, is "just not a risk" for people living in Canada.
"There's no risk that it's going to take hold in North America," she said. "It may be that people with Ebola virus disease are admitted to hospital here. That's very unlikely, but not impossible. But it can't become endemic here."