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Ebola outbreak: Ontario nurses should worry, doctor says

10/16/2014 02:34 EDT | Updated 12/16/2014 05:59 EST
Should Ontario's health-care workers be worried about the Ebola virus?

That question is being asked with increased frequency this week with the public debate over the province's Ebola readiness. There have been eight suspected cases of Ebola in Ontario, but none has turned out to be the deadly virus.

Dr. Michael Gardam, the director of infection prevention and control at the University Health Network in Toronto, sat down with CBC reporter Stephanie Matteis to discuss the threat of Ebola.

Read his answers to the questions below and click on the image above to watch the full interview.

What is your reaction to hearing the Registered Nurses Association of Ontario, the Canadian nurses union and others saying they're worried about Ebola?

They should be worried. I'm worried as well. I think anyone working in health care should be worried about this. So when people raise these concerns we have to listen to them.

I do have a few caveats though. The vast majority of Ontario health-care workers are never going to come into contact with somebody with Ebola virus.

So what we're focusing on here in our hospitals is training the people who might come into contact with people who might come into contact with someone who has Ebola. That means training people in our emergency departments, training people in our intensive care units.

But it's not just a matter of dropping by and saying 'Here's a protocol, learn it' and see how it goes. You have to try these protocols over and over and over again. And the way we created them was working with our front-line staff so they could have major input into what makes sense for them. So this has taken us months of work and we've trained about 75 to 80 per cent of people who we feel need to be trained here at University Health Network, which is not the majority of our staff nor should it be.

They're the specialists.

These are the specialists. We have a couple rules around Ebola. One of them is if you haven't been trained, you can't go in the room. That's an important point for people to realize. And the other point is people are going to have buddy systems to do this. Even if I trained you last week, you're going to forget. So it has to be ongoing training all the time so you feel extremely comfortable using this gear. So it's been an enormous amount of work that's taken us months so far.

There's concern about the first responders who may not be in that group of specialists. What about them?

That's a really important point and one of the sort of things we've learned about infectious disease in the last hundred years is that once you've identified somebody with a communicable disease, usually your risk of spreading it goes way down because people are wearing the right stuff, the person is isolated, and so on.

It's that window from the onset of symptoms until someone is actually diagnosed. One group that we talk a lot about which is far beyond my control is the EMS workers. Are they training? Do they have the right protocols in place to transfer suspect cases? They have done a lot of work since SARS. We see them being very compliant with a lot of personal protective equipment. Perhaps even more so than what we see in our hospitals. But I'm not personally involved in their training.

I think that because of the cases in the U.S., the nurses here sounding an alarm here and the government responding has heightened the anxiety of the public. What would you say to the public?

Nothing's changed from two weeks ago in my mind. In my mind the focus still has to be on West Africa. While we're sitting in North America talking about one or two individuals cases of Ebola, the cases in West Africa are doubling every couple of weeks.

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