Hamilton: Ailing Congolese Woman to Remain a Mystery

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Monday, February 12, 2001

Ailing Congolese woman to remain a mystery

HAMILTON (CP) -- The illness that has left a Congolese woman clinging to life in this southern Ontario city may forever remain a mystery, officials say.

"We don't yet have a diagnosis; we may never (have a diagnosis)," Jeff Vallentin, a spokesman for Henderson General Hospital, said Monday.

"Sometimes you never do find out what's wrong with patients."

The 32-year-old woman, whose case sparked international interest last week when it was suspected she was suffering from the deadly Ebola virus, is in critical but stable condition.

Doctors continued to conduct a battery of tests on her in an effort to determine what has left her near death, Vallentin said.

They have ruled out hemorrhagic fevers and -- although they can't pinpoint what's ailing her -- insist she no longer poses a threat to public health.

"The testing that has been done in Winnipeg and Atlanta has ruled out anything that would be a public health risk," Vallentin said.

Dr. Heinz Feldmann, head of the special pathogens section at the Canadian Centre for Human and Animal Health in Winnipeg, said Monday that the centre's tests for viruses like Ebola or Lassa fever were all negative.

"We have ruled out all the known Level 4s," he said.

A Level 4 virus must be handled using the ultimate in safeguards to prevent accidental contamination. The Winnipeg lab is the only facility of its kind in Canada approved for the handling of Level 4 samples.

Now that the decision has been made that whatever made the woman ill is not a known Level 4 virus, work can continue at laboratories that don't have such elaborate biocontainment systems.

The woman fell ill on Feb. 4, the day after she arrived in Canada from Africa on a temporary business visa.

Hospital officials say she's still on life support, suffering from organ failure of an unknown cause.

The woman also has malaria, but officials say it's a mild case and not responsible for the grave illness they had initially feared was one of the deadly viruses.

-- Rachel Gibson (rgibson@hotmail.com), February 13, 2001

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