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Special Event

Possible First Case of Ebola Virus Reported in North America

Aired February 6, 2001 - 1:27 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: The story now we are just hearing about out of Canada today: Doctors there are closely watching the condition of a woman who returned form Congo and now shows possible symptoms of the Ebola virus. If diagnosed, it would be the first case of Ebola in North America.

Blood samples from the woman are being tested at the disease centers in Canada and here in Atlanta. She had a stop-over in New York before flying to Toronto where her symptoms showed up.

There is a news conference under way right now at Tenderson (ph) General Hospital in Hamilton, Ontario. We've just learned that the woman has not been diagnosed yet. They should have the outcome in a few days. She is seriously ill. They've been talking about how the staff is treating this.

Let's listen in.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (JOINED IN PROGRESS) ... we have, but this person did not become ill until after arrival in Hamilton. This is, again, a fortunate aspect, because it means that we do not have to worry about there being risk in the travel settings.

Indeed, so far, we have only established two people in the community setting who we would define as close contacts.

Otherwise, we are working on developing information for the contacts, working on making sure that information is available to the community, and working closely with our partners at the hospital and at the provincial and federal levels.

And with that, I will turn it over to Dr. MacPherson, who is representing the federal level.

DR. DOUGLAS MACPHERSON, HEALTH CANADA: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. My name is Dr. Doug MacPherson. I work with Health Canada.

And from the Health Canada perspective, I'd like to give the message that we are very pleased with the rapid clinical identification of this case. And the recognition that it could be something of public health consequences. And then the very rapid implementation of the Canadian contingency plan for dealing with viral hemorrhagic fevers, which involve several agencies being involved, including the hospital, the regional health unit and the federal government.

From Health Canada's perspective, we are playing a supportive role in this in terms of implementing the federal and provincial plans for dealing with viral hemorrhagic fevers.

We've facilitated obtaining the appropriate diagnostic testing through the Health Canada Laboratory in Winnipeg. We've encouraged and facilitated communications with the in-Canada agencies that are involved, including Citizen and Immigration and Transportation Canada. We have informed the World Health Organization. And they're aware of the investigation that is going on.

And we are collaborating with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia, in terms of travel phase of this individual.

As Dr. Taha (ph) has indicated, we are quite confident and comfortable with the information we've gathered at this point in time, that we're not dealing with a public health risk during the transit period of this individual's illness.

And we believe that the sole focus, quite appropriately so, is regional. And we're confident to continue playing our supportive role. And we will respond to any needs that we hear from these two agencies.

Thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We will -- we're going to entertain questions.

I would just put a couple of ground rules. First of all, we're still dealing with -- please remember with the initial patient confidentiality. It's a -- you are in a hospital in a health care setting, first.

And secondly, to understand that there will be some time limit that these folks have to go back to work and important work they're doing here to follow up with this.

And so with that in mind, if we can, please?

QUESTION: Doctor, well, can you tell us what symptoms that this woman had?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Tragic fever.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, at -- this is the -- you know, the level we -- there's a tension between informing the public and in giving patient-level information.

So, I'm uncomfortable, you know, quite honestly, divulging too much information, other than to let you know that the -- that the presenting symptoms were nonspecific, OK? And that's partly why; there's a broad differential diagnoses. But that the key issue was the travel history that led to this possibility. OK? QUESTION: Did -- were there any signs of bleeding that would be consistent with something more serious than, say, meningitis?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There, again, I don't know. I could actually pass this to Dr. MacPherson.

You want to say...

MACPHERSON: Mark (ph), I can probably help you here.

The viral hemorrhagic contingency plan is actually on the Health Canada Web site, under the travel medicine program. And the definition -- the clinical definitions of what would activate that program are on -- at that Web site. And I would encourage you all to seek that out. And perhaps, if the hospital is generous enough, they will print one off and make it available to you.

We would respond in any clinical scenario to someone with a travel history who would be prevented with symptoms that are compatible with an exotically inquired infection. And within that definition, you'll find fever, feveric hemorrhage, fever with altered neurological status, and other syndromes are within those definitions would prompt activation of this plant.

QUESTION: Doctor Bold (ph), as a result of the negative blood cultures, what disease...

ALLEN: Doctors there talking in Canada -- Ontario, Canada, about a woman who is in the hospital there, seriously ill, but having some improvement. A woman they believe may have the Ebola virus. They just said that her symptoms were nonspecific. And because she just traveled from Congo, that's what alerted them that she may have this. It would be the first case of Ebola in North America.

Let's talk to our medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen, who's been looking into this.

How serious would this be if, in fact, this woman has Ebola?

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, this would be very serious for this woman. We know that. When someone has Ebola, there's no cure, there's no treatment at all. This person would be dead probably within 10 days of first feeling the symptoms.

Now, another big question is: What does this mean for the folks who she came in contact with? What's not known right now is what kind of contact she had with people and at what stage in her illness. And it's a very -- that's a very important question that needs to be answered.

However, experts have told us -- and this is -- this is some good news here -- that this virus is -- this hemorrhagic fever is not spread through casual contact. You are not going to get it just from standing next to someone and talking to them. It's not like influenza, for example. It's not like TB, which can be spread just from particles going from your mouth to the person standing next to you, who you are talking to.

It's spread from contact with bodily fluids. And that's why, for example, health care workers sometimes get this when they are taking care of patients. That's why, for example, family members get this when they're taking care of their family members. Or where they're preparing bodies for burial because they're coming in contact with these secretions.

However, it's not spread just through casual contact. For example, you and I talking here would not spread that kind of disease.

ALLEN: And the hospital seemed to want to make the point that she just became ill, when she got to Hamilton, Ontario. And they were relieved at that. And they said that we're not dealing with the public transit health care risk here. So we will continue to watch the story.

And again, her diagnose is not in yet. But they said in a few days, they should know what she has.

COHEN: Exactly.

ALLEN: Thanks, Elizabeth Cohen.

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