THE BLOG
08/13/2014 06:09 EDT | Updated 10/13/2014 05:59 EDT

Ontarians, We Are Well Prepared For a Public Health Outbreak

We now have greatly expanded infection control resources and expertise to help hospitals control disease outbreaks. We have a valuable and close working partnership with the Public Health Agency of Canada. And finally, there are programs in place to respond to emergency situations, as well as stockpiles of emergency supplies, equipment and antiviral medications.

Ebola is a devastating disease that understandably elicits fear and anxiety the world over. As national and international health systems respond to the Ebola epidemic in West Africa, it is therefore appropriate that Ontarians be assured of the integrity of our infectious disease surveillance and management system and that the risk to them remains remote.

As a physician and public health specialist, I spent several years in Africa managing epidemics and treating life-threatening infectious diseases. I understand how alarming it can be to think that you or your loved ones might have been exposed to a serious virus like Ebola. I also understand how important it is to act swiftly to diagnose, contain and treat the disease. We are fortunate in Ontario to have world-class health surveillance and infectious disease control and management systems, ready to respond to the risk of infectious outbreak when it needs to.

When an individual presented to a hospital last Friday with fever, malaise and a history of recent travel to West Africa a series of protocols were triggered to ensure both the individual's well-being and the safety of Ontarians. The patient was placed in isolation, infection-control measures were enforced, and was tested for Ebola. Early Sunday morning, I reported that the blood test was negative for the Ebola virus. Meanwhile, and behind the scenes, an impressive coordination and control effort was underway involving the local hospital, our provincial public health officials, the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care, and federal health agencies. It was also very important to me that Ontarians be updated regularly with information so they could see the action being taken by public health and government officials.

I can confidently say that at no time was the health or safety of any Ontarian at risk. The system and protocols put in place -- many of them implemented following the SARS outbreak a decade ago -- worked. Our health care system responded in this case as it should. Even in the unlikely occurrence that an individual arriving in Ontario were to have Ebola or some other serious infectious disease, our high-quality surveillance and control measures in place across this province would mean that the possibility of spread would be extremely unlikely.

Ontarians should rest assured that we have prepared our system so that it is fully equipped to deal with public health threats if and when they arise.

Our experience with SARS in 2003, one of the most serious outbreaks of infectious disease the province had experienced in a long time, pointed to an urgent need to change dramatically the way we handle a health emergency. It reminded us all of the importance of having a robust public health sector.

Thanks to the lessons of SARS, the province now has a far stronger capacity to anticipate, prepare for and respond to health emergencies.

Our hospitals now have sophisticated infection control systems and procedures in place that are designed to limit the spread of infection, protect health care workers and provide the best care possible for the patient.

Public Health Ontario (PHO) conducts laboratory testing and provides expert scientific and technical support for infection prevention and control, disease surveillance, epidemiology and emergency preparedness. In terms of Ebola, PHO has developed guidance for health workers on implementing appropriate occupational health and safety and infection prevention and control measures to keep patients, health care workers and the public safe.

We have taken other strong action to proactively protect the health of Ontarians.

Our 36 local Public Health Units provide assistance investigating, undertaking case and contact management, and communicating daily with hospitals. Public Health Units also request and coordinate the submission of laboratory samples where necessary and liaise with Public Health Ontario regarding reportable diseases.

We now have greatly expanded infection control resources and expertise to help hospitals control disease outbreaks. We have a valuable and close working partnership with the Public Health Agency of Canada. And finally, there are programs in place to respond to emergency situations, as well as stockpiles of emergency supplies, equipment and antiviral medications.

This is also an opportune time for me to remind the public of what they can do to protect themselves from infectious disease and prevent its spread. Frequent and thorough hand washing and keeping common items and surfaces clean and disinfected are very effective ways to stop the spread of disease.

If you do become sick after travelling, contact a health care provider. Make sure you tell them your symptoms, which countries you visited or travelled from, and

whether you have been to a medical facility or received medical care while abroad.

I am happy to hear that the patient is doing well and wish the individual a full and speedy recovery. My sincere thanks go to the extraordinary health care workers, public health professionals and Ministry of Health staff for their ongoing efforts and dedication.

As a result of their commitment and tireless work, Ontario is in safe hands.

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