Cablegate: Not Sars, Not Avian Flu - Ontario Health Officials

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.




E.O. 12958: N/A
SUBJECT: Not SARS, Not Avian Flu - Ontario Health Officials
Seek Identity of Killer Virus

Ref: Toronto 00153

1. SUMMARY: In a press conference on Saturday October 1,
Ontario health officials announced that a respiratory
illness that had killed four residents of a Toronto nursing
home and affected over 70 of its staff was not SARS or avian
flu-related. On Monday, October 3, Ontario's Commissioner
of Emergency Management Julian Fantino told post's DPO that
he was "relieved" at this finding, but still deeply
concerned about the lack of specific definition of the
illness. END SUMMARY.

2. Dr. Allison McGeer, a microbiologist at Mount Sinai
Hospital, and Dr. Barbara Yaffee, director of communicable
disease control with the City of Toronto public health
department, told those in attendance at Saturday's press
conference that:

-- the victims had symptoms consistent with those
usually seen at the beginning of the flu season;

-- those who had died all had severe underlying medical

-- cases were restricted to the 250-bed Seven Oaks Home
for the Aged in the suburban city of Scarborough; 15
people have been hospitalized since the outbreak began
on September 25, with the majority admitted on Friday,
September 30, and placed in negative pressure
rooms; (NOTE: See nursing home's website for
additional details on this facility, The
center includes a childcare center. END NOTE)

-- the province's health lab's excellent detection
capacity was at work, with six possible viruses under
suspicion: para-influenza, adenoviruses, rhinoviruses,
metapneumo virus, and human coronavirusrirus; (NOTE:
Coronavirusrirus caused an outbreak in Vancouver in
2003. End NOTE)

-- hospitals and emergency rooms across the city were
operating normally -- the admitting Centenary Hospital
had taken standard added precautions, but quarantine
was deemed unnecessary;

-- best public precautionary practice against viral
infection was frequent hand-washing.

3. DPO attended the scheduled meeting Monday morning of
Toronto's Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC), which
featured former Toronto Police Chief and current
Commissioner of Emergency Management Julian Fantino as a
speaker. On greeting DPO, Fantino described himself as
"relieved" by the initial findings on the Scarborough
outbreak. He mentioned the impressive medical technology
being employed to determine the specific nature of the
illness, and made clear that its identification is a key
priority for medical and civil authorities alike.


4. Drs. McGeer and Yaffee are familiar faces from
Toronto's 2003 SARS outbreak, which stunned the
city with 44 deaths. Toronto Public Health decided to hold
the press conference because of the sensitivity of the city
to such incidents and to counter "some misinformation
floating about - rumor mills." No doubt recent alarming
World Health Organization predictions of a bird flu pandemic
has heightened concern. Since the SARS outbreak, Ontario
has become a recognized world leader on respiratory illness
control and Canada has developed with the provinces a
Pandemic Influenza Plan. This month Canada will host an
international meeting of Ministers of Health and other
senior officials from 30 countries to enhance global
collaboration and coordination to combat a likely avian flu
pandemic in support of the U.S.'s International Partnership
on Avian and Pandemic Influenza. It will contribute C$15
million for international initiatives related to emerging
infectious diseases.

5. Comment Continued: Reftel contains ConGen Toronto's
assessment of "Lessons Learned" from the 2003 Toronto
SARS outbreak, much of which would be applicable should
an influenza situation occur. In September the Consulate's
senior staff reviewed in detail relevant Emergency Action
Plan procedures for such a contingency and the entire
Consulate staff completed bio-chem training; our local
medical director, Dr Howard Seiden, and a representative
from the provincial Office of Emergency Management attended
this training at our invitation, which was tailored to
address additional influenza concerns. There was also good
attendance at the recent PA-hosted DVC on avian flu with
public health emergency preparedness experts from the CDC.
We have undertaken efforts to keep staff and American
citizens informed, but not alarmed. We will continue to
monitor broader viral outbreak reports as a testing ground
for awareness of our Consulate's procedures. We believe we
- and the province - have done what we can to prepare for an
influenza epidemic. End Comment.


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