What was first feared to be the debut of the Ebola virus in North America is turning out to be anything but.
Initial test results show that a Congolese woman who arrived in Canada and fell ill with symptoms of a hemorrhagic virus does not have Ebola, health experts said Wednesday.
But officials will continue to monitor at least 16 people - 14 hospital workers and two of the woman's friends - who had contact with her since she arrived in Canada on Saturday.
"Those are preliminary results. Viral isolation is still ongoing," Dr. Mark Lobe, an expert in infectious diseases at Henderson Hospital in Hamilton, Ontario told a news conference. Hospital workers looked on anxiously as he spoke.
The woman was hospitalized Sunday night, and has thus far been diagnosed with malaria. Doctors are studying the possibility she has some sort of hemorrhagic fever. Further tests are still underway in Winnipeg, Manitoba and at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.
Doctors said the woman remained in serious condition Wednesday night, but was showing signs of improvement.
The Canadian government had enacted a contingency plan for contagious viruses after discovering that possibility, but now believe the danger of her sickness spreading is minimal. The 32-year-old woman - she cannot be identified under privacy laws - has been quarantined since Monday.
A recent Ebola outbreak in Uganda killed 173 of the more than 400 people infected.
The woman arrived Saturday in Toronto from Newark, N.J., on an Air Canada flight, airline spokeswoman Laura Cooke said. The flight had 39 passengers and five crew members. Her flight had arrived in New Jersey from Ethiopia, but it was not clear how she got to Ethiopia from the Congo, The Toronto Star newspaper reported. She apparently came to Canada on a legitimate visitor's visa.
Canadian health authorities asked for a list of passengers on the flight, but also "advised us they do not consider this passenger to be contagious for casual contact," Cooke said.
Doctors said the woman has not shown signs of bleeding from the ears, eyes, or mouth - conditions that would suggest the Ebola virus that can be lethal in more than 50 percent of cases.
But hospital workers said Wednesday they were still worried and hadn't been given any official instructions on what to do.
"There's people now with their lives on hold, waiting to know what to do," said Debra Mattina, an X-ray technician and union representative. "We haven't been told whether we can kiss our husbands or send our kids to day care."
Ebola and the other hemorrhagic fevers are not transmitted through the air. Infection occurs through direct contact with the infected person's blood or bodily fluids such as saliva or semen, and only after they have exhibited symptoms such as fever and malaise.
That's why it was a relief fohealth officials to learn that the woman did not fall visibly ill until after arriving in Hamilton on Saturday night.
"This is a fortunate aspect because it means we do not have to worry about there being risks in the travel settings," explained Dr. Monir Taha, a city public health official.
Dr. Lobe and others insisted there was little chance that the disease would spread and almost no possibility of a widescale outbreak.
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