National disease lab employee may have been exposed to Ebola

Employee at National Centre for Foreign Animal Disease noticed split in seam of protective suit

WINNIPEG – An employee at the National Centre for Foreign Animal Disease may have been exposed to the Ebola virus.

Dr. John Copps says the employee was working with six infected pigs Monday and noticed a split in the seam of his protective suit during decontamination after working in the Level 4 lab in Winnipeg.

The lab director said all proper emergency procedures were followed and the risk to the employee, co-workers and the community is considered to be low.

“Our employees are well aware of the risks and how to control them,” Copps told a news conference Tuesday.

He said it’s standard procedure to check the full-body suits at least once a week. He would not speculate on how the seam split.

“The employee had worked in the suit previously and the suit was checked rigorously and it was a new suit.”

The employee met with a doctor and was offered an experimental Ebola vaccine. Officials, citing privacy, wouldn’t say whether he received the vaccine.

The employee is in isolation and will be monitored for 21 days by local health officials.

The national lab works in the prevention, detection, control and reporting of foreign animal diseases and emerging diseases. Its research includes work on avian influenza, foot-and-mouth disease and classical swine fever.

Copps said that in this case a pig had been given a drug called interferon and then infected with Ebola to see if the drug would affect the outcome of the disease.

All the pigs had been anesthetized and were being moved by the employee at the time, he said.

“As we all know, Ebola virus is an important disease and as such, we’re trying to find pre-treatments to establish disease prevention in people.”

In July 2015, a study reported in the medical journal The Lancet said the National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg had developed a vaccine protecting 100 per cent of the people who received it against the Ebola virus.

Ebola has killed more than 11,300 people, mostly in West Africa. The World Health Organization said earlier this year that Ebola is no longer an international health emergency, but added that flare-ups, at decreasing frequency, are expected.

Ebola is spread through direct contact with the blood, sweat, vomit, feces, urine, saliva or semen of those infected or of corpses. The virus is not airborne.

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