May 12, 2008
VIA Rail train quarantined enroute from Vancouver to Toronto
Canadian health authorities quarantined a VIA Rail passenger train after one person was found dead and several became seriously ill on Friday, local media
reported.  One woman was airlifted to a hospital in Timmins, about 100 kilometres away, and emergency response workers in hazmat suits rushed to the
scene in the Northern Ontario hamlet of Foleyet to tend to those with flu-like symptoms and find out what was causing the illness.  Two cars of the VIA train with
260 passengers and 30 crew members was placed under quarantine.  CAW National Council 4000 represents VIA Rail’s onboard crew members and off
board employees.

The five passengers who reported flu-like symptoms were not taken to hospital and were in stable condition with mild symptoms.  

The woman who died was 43 and was from South Africa.  She got onboard the train in Jasper, Alberta as part of a tour group, was found dead in the washroom
by a doctor on the train, who had earlier been notified about the woman’s deteriorating health.  It is believed that she died of a heart attack.  She tested negative
for influenza and respiratory syncytial virus, which causes flu-like symptoms, and her symptoms were likely connected to an existing condition.    

Ontario's acting chief medical officer Dr. David Williams said there was likely no connection between the sudden death of the woman and the other ill
passengers onboard the train, which was travelling from Vancouver to Toronto.  None of the passengers experiencing flu-like symptoms, the woman who was
airlifted or the one that died, had infectious diseases.

The sick passengers, who were also part of the tour group, had some symptoms before getting on the train and likely had mild viral illnesses.  One had sought
medical treatment in Alberta for a sinus infection, Williams said.

Authorities said all they knew was that a woman who was seemingly healthy one moment and was dead the next, and that a tour group, including tourists from
Australia who might have passed through Asia, were sick.

"Given that there's still H5N1 (avian influenza) and while we haven't seen much person-to-person spread, one person dying and another person requiring
airlifting and a bunch of other people sick, that kind of throws up some quick flags," said Dr. David Butler-Jones, Canada's chief public health officer, during an
interview with the Canadian Press.

Health officials across the country were praising the quick reaction of emergency response teams, hailing it as a sign the emergency response system is
working after lessons learned from the 2005 SARS outbreak.  

British Columbia's chief medical health officer, Dr. Perry Kendall, said public health officials across the country linked into conference calls to share information
quickly.  "Had we had that high level of suspicion in Toronto, for example, at the beginning of SARS, they may not have had the number of cases they
subsequently had," he said.

Kendall said Canada is spending $135 million on a computer system to allow every province and territory to share information in the event of an outbreak.

Around 7 p.m. EDT Friday, the train and its passengers and crew members resumed its journey to Toronto.
 
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