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An unknown respiratory viral outbreak at a Scarborough long-term care home received extensive media coverage over the weekend, prompting questions about Ontario's level of preparedness against the threat of infectious diseases. I've asked Michael Gardam, Director of Infection Prevention and Control to give us an update on the situation and I have been very reassured by his response. Here's what he has to say:
"Toronto Public Health and the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care are closely monitoring the situation and at the present time, they believe there is nothing in this respiratory viral outbreak to suggest it is out of the ordinary. What's encouraging is that there are no new cases reported today, suggesting we're approaching the end of this outbreak.
It's natural for people to feel nervous, especially given Toronto's experience with SARS. Lab results have ruled out SARS or avian flu as a possibility. These causes were felt to be extremely unlikely but were first on everybody's mind.
What's important to remember is that it's common for outbreaks of respiratory viruses and other organisms to occur in long-term care homes and hospitals. Respiratory virus outbreaks are very common during the winter season with the sick and elderly being especially vulnerable. What's difficult is to determine the exact virus since many can produce the same kind of symptoms. The Ontario Public Health Laboratory will have test results shortly.
The good news is that hospitals and health providers who are caring for these patients are exercising proper infection control. As a result of SARS, we have a strong awareness of infection control and tools for dealing with infectious diseases. For example, health care providers today have much better protocols for dealing with respiratory outbreaks. As a system, we have stronger linkages between Toronto Public Health, the provincial and federal government, hospitals, long-term care homes and other facilities. These links are not yet perfect, but we have come a long way in the last two years.
Next week, UHN will be launching our annual "Bug Stops Here" infection prevention and control awareness week and flu vaccination to ensure that everybody is familiar with infection control precautions and that everyone practices infection control. I encourage everyone to take part in this important campaign."
Michael and I will update you on this issue as new information becomes available.
Sent by Catherine Zahn, Executive Vice President, Clinical Programs and Practice