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Ebola virus discussed at health ministers' talks in Banff, Alta.

10/01/2014 10:26 EDT | Updated 12/01/2014 05:59 EST
Health Minister Rona Ambrose and Dr. Gregory Taylor, Canada's chief public health officer, discuss the Ebola outbreak in West Africa today at the meeting of federal, provincial and territorial health ministers in Banff, Alta.

On Tuesday, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced the first case of the deadly virus was diagnosed in the United States. A traveller from Liberia is under treatment in hospital in Dallas.

Canadian and U.S. health officials stressed that the risk to the public is low, given that health systems in North America include clean water, protective equipment such as masks, gowns and gloves, and basic medicines that are in short supply in West Africa.

The Ebola virus doesn't spread before someone gets sick, said CDC director Tom Frieden. Authorities are tracking down contacts, of the unidentified patient in Texas.

On Tuesday, Taylor said in a statement that Canada is aware of the Ebola patient in the U.S. 

"The information we have to date is that the individual did not travel through Canada and was not symptomatic, and therefore not contagious, during their travel to the United States."

He reiterated the message of U.S. health officials, saying that Ebola doesn't spread easily from person to person and requires "direct contact with an individual with symptoms."

Taylor said Canada is well prepared in several ways:

- To identify and prevent the spread of infections, such as at borders.

- The National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg and provincial laboratories are ready to detect and respond quickly.

- Canadian hospitals have infection control systems to limit the spread of infection and protect health-care workers.

Dr. Allison McGeer, director of infection control at Toronto's Mount Sinai Hospital, said Canadians can be confident that our hospitals are ready and on alert. The level of care available in North America differs markedly from West Africa.

"West Africans desperately need our help," McGeer said in an interview on Wednesday. "The best way to protect ourselves in Canada honestly is not to have disease in West Africa."

The virus is thought to have made more than 6,500 people sick in West Africa, in particular, in Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia. More than 3,000 deaths have been linked to the virus, according to the World Health Organization.

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