03/24/2014 05:45 EDT | Updated 05/24/2014 05:59 EDT

Man falls ill after visit to western Africa; placed in hospital isolation

SASKATOON - Saskatchewan health officials say a man who recently travelled to western Africa is seriously ill in hospital and one of the possible diagnoses they are considering is Ebola hemorrhagic fever.

"Viral hemorrhagic fever is a generic name for a number of rather exotic diseases that are found in Africa," Dr. Denise Werker, deputy chief medical health officer, said Monday.

"In that class of diseases there is Ebola hemorrhagic fever, Lassa fever, Crimean-Congo hemorrhagic fever and yellow fever that you would normally include in the viral hemorrhagic fevers."

Marburg hemorrhagic fever is also included in that group.

Werker said tests have been sent to the Public Health Agency of Canada's National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg. Results are expected Tuesday, but Werker said they may be inconclusive.

There is fear an outbreak of the Ebola virus has spread to Liberia, where the man was travelling.

"All we know at this point is that we have a person who is critically ill who travelled from a country where these diseases occur," she said.

She says hemorrhagic fevers are spread through contact with a sick person's bodily fluids — one of the final symptoms is bleeding from the mouth and eyes.

The World Health Organization says Ebola is one of the most virulent viral diseases. There is no cure.

Werker explained it is not easily spread.

"People need to be in close contact with blood and bodily fluids and so that would be close household contacts of people who are taking care of these individuals," she said.

"There is no risk to the general public at all about this."

Health workers caring for the man are wearing masks, gowns, gloves and boots, Werker said.

African health officials announced Monday that an outbreak of Ebola is believed to have killed at least 59 people in Guinea and may already have spread to neighbouring Liberia.

Health workers in Guinea are trying to contain the spread of the disease. In Liberia, health officials said they are investigating five deaths after several people crossed the border from Guinea in search of medical treatment.

The new cases mark the first time in 20 years that an outbreak of the virus has been reported in West Africa. Ibrahima Toure, Guinea's country director for the aid group Plan International, has said the fatality rate can be as high as 90 per cent.

Werker said the man showed no signs of illness while he was travelling. The incubation period for hemorrhagic fever is up to 21 says, she said.

(CKRM, CJME, The Canadian Press)