By Rod Nickel
An employee in a high-level Canadian laboratory may have been accidentally exposed to Ebola on Monday while working with pigs who were infected with the virus as part of an experiment, government officials said on Tuesday.
The man noticed a split in the seam of his protective suit during standard decontamination procedures and prior to leaving the Winnipeg, Manitoba lab, said John Copps, director of Canadian Food Inspection Agency's National Center for Foreign Animal Disease, where the incident happened.
All proper emergency procedures were followed and the risk to the employee, co-workers and community are low, Copps said.
Ebola attracted global attention in 2014 during an epidemic in West Africa that killed thousands. The Winnipeg animal disease lab is on the same site as a microbiology laboratory where scientists developed an experimental Ebola vaccine.
The facility is one of only a handful of North American labs capable of handling pathogens requiring the highest level of containment.
There have been no confirmed Ebola cases in Canada, according to the Public Health Agency's website.
The employee has agreed to be isolated and will be monitored for symptoms by health officials for 21 days, Copps said. It was not immediately clear how much contact the employee had with others before realizing the risk of possible infection.
Government officials offered few details about the employee during a conference call with journalists.
Six pigs were infected with Ebola as part of the experiment, and the man was suited up to move an anaesthetized pig to be sampled, Copps said. It is unclear how the suit ripped, he said.
Ebola is spread through bodily fluids and individuals are not considered infectious until they develop symptoms, which has not happened in this case, said Theresa Tam, deputy chief public health officer of Canada's Public Health Agency.
She said the employee was offered an Ebola vaccine, but officials would not say if it was used.