By Mark Hodgins 
BELLEVILLE – It’s something the whole world is thinking about. Thankfully, so is the infectious-disease department at Quinte Health Care. 
With a patient in the United States reportedly fighting for his life, a chilling question arises: will Ebola reach the great white north?
Dr. Dick Zoutman, QHC’s chief of staff and an expert on infectious diseases, says it’s very possible.
“As the number of cases in Africa grows, the probability increases that it could reach us here,” Zoutman said.
To quell the outbreak, it has to be stopped at the source, he said. That’s done through contact tracing: finding and diagnosing any people who may have come into contact with an infected patient, and placing them under quarantine.
As soon as someone is diagnosed with Ebola, a case is launched and contact tracing begins. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control’s website , when contacts are found they are watched for 21 days. If they develop symptoms, they are then put in isolation and the cycle begins again with a search for contacts of the new patient. Theoretically, when there are no longer any new contacts, the spread has been contained.
With such a large area affected, however, this is no small task. “It requires a lot of people on the ground. We call it shoe-leather epidemiology,” Zoutman said.
Because of the severity of this outbreak, QHC is preparing for the possibility of a case appearing in our area. Zoutman said it is ahead of the curve when it comes to preparation, and in fact training in Ebola protocols was taking place Monday.
All hospitals in the Quinte region are being prepared, so that if someone needs care they’ll be in good hands here, rather than having to be taken to Kingston or Toronto, he said.
As yet there is no official vaccine against Ebola, but Canadian labs, mainly the National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg, are on the cutting edge of finding one. The Canadian government has pledged to ship an experimental vaccine developed at the Winnipeg lab to Africa, although the shipment has not yet happened.
Zoutman, who worked extensively on the SARS outbreak in 2003, says he’s very proud of the work being done by Canadians to fight this virus.
Whether Ebola will come to our country – and even Quinte – is impossible to say. If it does, though, Zoutman says, “we’ll be ready.”