VICTORIA – A humanitarian group says a British Columbia doctor who recently returned from a trip to West Africa to fight a deadly Ebola outbreak is not under any kind of quarantine, contrary to initial reports.
Samaritan’s Purse had told CTV News that Dr. Azaria Marthyman, who returned to Victoria on Saturday after spending several weeks in Liberia, had voluntarily placed himself under quarantine at home as a precaution.
But group spokesman Jeff Adams said the information given to the network was incorrect and it turns out Marthyman was just taking some time off with his wife and children to decompress from his trip.
“He flew home on Saturday — very healthy, no symptoms at all,” said Adams, who apologized for the mixup.
“He decided that it had been a couple of pretty exhausting weeks in Liberia and contacted his staff and said, ‘Would you cancel my appointments for the week? I just want to stay home with my family.'”
The initial report appeared to underscore the dangers faced by health-care workers treating patients during the largest Ebola outbreak in history. The disease has killed more than 670 people in Liberia, Guinea, Nigeria and Sierra Leone since the outbreak began earlier this year.
Two American aid workers, including one of Marthyman’s colleagues at Samaritan’s Purse, American Dr. Kent Brantly, are in hospital in Liberia after contracting the Ebola virus.
Sierra Leone’s health ministry says Dr. Sheik Humarr Khan, a leading virologist in that country, died Tuesday from the disease.
Experts and public health officials have said Ebola does not pose a significant risk to travellers because it requires direct contact with bodily fluids or secretions.
Dr. Bonnie Henry of the B.C. Centre for Disease Control said Ebola can only be transmitted if an infected person is showing symptoms.
“You’re not contagious until you have symptoms and the symptoms tend to come on suddenly and very severely, so by the time you have symptoms, you’re not able to travel,” Henry said in an interview Tuesday.
“For example, this physician who came back was perfectly well, so he was not a risk to anybody.”
Symptoms of Ebola include fever, muscle pain, vomiting and internal bleeding. At least 60 per cent of infected patients die.
Henry said provincial and federal laws require health-care workers to immediately report suspected cases of Ebola, which are then reported to the World Health Organization.
There has never been a reported case in Canada.
“It’s not really a major concern for most of us in Canada,” she said.
“We’re very lucky that we have the health-care system that we do, so even if a single case came, we would be able to contain it and care for that person without putting other people at risk.”
Samaritan’s Purse sent out a news release late last month that said Marthyman would be travelling to Liberia to become part of the group’s 14-member team of doctors and nurses.
Marthyman wrote a blog post on the group’s website last week marking the end of his trip.
“I am doing very well physically and emotionally, having worked every day since my arrival in Liberia and today having to say goodbye to so many people,” he wrote.
“Working closely with other members of the team brings out the good, the bad, and the ugly, but in the end, we have each grown in our character. Special bonds and memories have developed that can only be fully appreciated among us.”
Adams, the Samaritan’s Purse spokesman, said he hopes members of the public — and their governments — stay focused on the bigger picture.
“What’s really needed here is not a lot of attention around one doctor coming back to Canada,” said Adams.
“What is really needed is a concerted effort by several countries to get in there an help, because we (Samaritan’s Purse) and Doctors Without Borders cannot deal with this on our own.”
— With files from The Associated Press