09/07/2014 05:00 EDT | Updated 11/06/2014 05:59 EST

Ebola virus precautions added to back-to-school advice on campus

Ebola virus precautions have been added to the back-to-school packages that some Canadian post-secondary institutions provide to their faculty, staff and students.

Health officials stress that there’s never been a case of Ebola virus disease reported in Canada and the risk to Canadians remain very low.

The Public Health Agency of Canada produced a poster that lists the affected countries in Africa (Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone and to a lesser extent, Nigeria and Senegal) and puts it into context in terms of how the disease can and cannot be spread and it tells people when to seek care, said Dr. Robert Strong, Nova Scotia’s chief medical officer of health.

Typically the disease is spread by direct and close contact with the blood or other bodily fluids of someone who is already sick — not by casual contact such as shaking hands.  

As as a precautionary measure, Nova Scotia Public Health asks that anyone who has recently (within 21 days prior to becoming ill) travelled to an Ebola-affected country in West or Central Africa to call the province’s telehealth line.

"The reason we targeted the universities is because one of the most likely, even though it's still very low risk, one of the highest probability ones is students or faculty who have been in that part of the world, either returning back to Canada or coming from one of these countries to study in Canada," Strang said.

The situation is much the same in Ottawa, where students may be returning from affected countries, said Dr. Rosamund Lewis of Ottawa Public Health.

"The vast majority will not have been anywhere close to a person who is infected with Ebola virus," Lewis said. "But on the other hand, if those persons do develop a fever or any symptom of illness, they should be evaluated immediately."

Anyone returning from an Ebola-affected country is asked to self-monitor for fever and other symptoms and report immediately if anything develops, she said.

'It is prudent to be prepared'

Last week, the University of Winnipeg emailed its community about Ebola virus.

"Despite the very low risk of any cases of Ebola virus disease arising within our university community, it is prudent to be prepared and informed," the university said.

Provincial, territorial and federal health officials, as well as the World Health Organization, aren’t recommending any extraordinary steps for a traveller who feels well, including those arriving from the affected countries.
The University of Winnipeg said it continues to welcome international students and visitors. It encouraged members of the university community to make informed decisions about work, education or personal travel and to take precautions before, during and after travel to the affected areas.

The Public Health Agency of Canada’s website provides travel advice regarding the Ebola virus and other illnesses.

The University of Toronto said it issued a public health notice by email and on its portal to students, faculty and staff with facts and information regarding the Ebola virus. The information was based on recommendations from ministry and health agencies.