10/17/2014 03:53 EDT | Updated 12/17/2014 05:59 EST

Ebola Outbreak: Diagnosis Delayed After Air Canada Refuses To Transport Blood Sample

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Air Canada refused to fly a blood specimen from a patient suspected of Ebola from Edmonton to Winnipeg last weekend, CBC News has learned.

Officials are blaming poor communication and unclear protocols for the delay of more than 24 hours between when the sample was collected in Edmonton and when it finally arrived in Winnipeg's National Microbiology Lab. 

Sources tell CBC News the patient in question came in to the emergency room of an Edmonton-area hospital midday last Saturday.

Because the patient’s symptoms met the case definitions put forward by the province, CDC and the Public Health Agency of Canada, the patient was transferred to the University of Alberta Hospital – one of four treatment centres set up to deal with patients diagnosed with Ebola in Alberta.

After arriving at the second hospital, hospital staff followed Ebola protocols and collected a blood sample from the patient, to be delivered to the Winnipeg lab.

The Edmonton hospital then hired a courier to transport the blood sample to the Edmonton International Airport, where the sample was to be flown out on the next plane.

Because the call to transport the sample came in after hours, the lab was not able to use Purolator, its usual service, and instead called World Courier, which they had used successfully before.

But when World Courier arrived at the Edmonton International Airport around 10 p.m., sources say the sample was refused. 

With no other options, the patient’s blood sample was then sent back to the lab at the University of Alberta Hospital for overnight storage, with a request that it be returned to the airport in the morning when more staff were on duty.

Hoping to avoid a repeat of the previous night, on Sunday morning the courier company called ahead to confirm airline staff would accept the sample.

At that time, the courier was told that Air Canada needed four hours notice before the sample could be shipped out.

No one at the hospital was aware of the four-hour requirement, however, so the sample did not ship out in time to make the noon flight, says the source.

Instead, the sample was booked on a 5 p.m. flight to Winnipeg, reaching the lab around 8 p.m.

It was not until midnight Sunday that Ebola was ruled out. 

Delay highlights problem with system, says source

This was not the first time the Edmonton lab had sent a sample to Winnipeg for testing. According to CBC's sources, samples in the past have been sent without staff running into the four-hour requirement.

The significant and unexpected delay left both the patient and hospital staff feeling anxious and ill-prepared, sources said.


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