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Police don't think woman's death, other illnesses on Via train are connected

FOLEYET, Ont. - A 60-year-old woman has died and several others are sick with flu-like symptoms on a quarantined Via Rail passenger train in northern Ontario, but police said Friday they don't believe there's any connection between the death and the illnesses.


FOLEYET, Ont. - A 60-year-old woman has died and several others are sick with flu-like symptoms on a quarantined Via Rail passenger train in northern Ontario, but police said Friday they don't believe there's any connection between the death and the illnesses.

Although several health agencies are still trying to confirm whether or not the victim's death and the other illnesses are related, as of now, police don't believe there's a connection, said provincial police Staff Sgt. Rob Knox.

"At present we do not believe they're related," Knox said.

Const. Marc Depatie added that it's the "totality" of the circumstances that led police to that conclusion, including advice from health experts and reports that the woman was not well when she got on the train in Jasper, Alta., as part of a group of tourists.

"The woman who had expired made her way onto the train with pre-existing health issues," Depatie said.

"And we're (also) relying on the information provided to us by health-care professionals, who are better apt at treating this type of situation, so we're bowing to their knowledge obviously."

Police had still not removed the body from the train as of Friday afternoon, Depatie said, because hazmat teams were finalizing a plan before they conduct an investigation.

A doctor had been on the train, which was three days into its route from Vancouver to Toronto, and tried to help the victim after she became ill. After she died, attention was turned to another six passengers who were travelling in the victims' tour group and who also developed flu-like symptoms.

One was airlifted to hospital but the other five remain on the train, separated from the other passengers, and are believed to be in stable condition and in good spirits, Depatie said.

The passenger in hospital was diagnosed with a respiratory illness and is also in stable condition.

The doctor onboard indicated to police that he saw no reason to evacuate the other passengers for their safety, or anyone else in the vicinity of the quarantined train.

Dr. Donald Low, an infectious diseases expert and medical director of the Ontario Public Health Laboratories, said his initially suspicion was that the illness was influenza, which can cause severe illness and can kill, especially in the elderly and people who have heart conditions or other chronic illnesses.

"People at this age group are at risk of dying from influenza," he said. "What we're hoping is we get some good clinical specimens on these patients today and get an answer."

Officials are now obtaining medical documents and patient histories to help determine the causes of the illnesses. An autopsy on the victim is also being considered.

The train's early-morning arrival in the tiny hamlet of Foleyet was quite the wake-up call for the 380 residents, who saw ambulances, police and helicopters scrambling to the scene.

"The whole place is being overrun with ambulances and police cars, and we've got helicopters," said Deborah DesRochers, chairwoman of the town located about 100 kilometres southwest of Timmins.

Not far from the town's train station is the Northern Lights Restaurant, which was jammed with residents like 53-year-old Leo DesRochers who stopped by to get a closer look at the scene.

"It's creating quite a bit of excitement, it's really rolling in here," he said of the mood in the bustling restaurant.

"There's lots of people standing around, lots of police, and they're handling it with white gloves. They're being pretty careful about it, saying we don't know what it is but we're being really cautious about it."

As the quarantine continued into the afternoon, officials were booking nearby accommodations in case passengers needed to stay overnight.

The Air Ivanhoe lodge, just outside Foleyet, was completely booked to hold 40 or 50 people, said owner Jeanne Theriault.

It's not the first time the tiny town has been through this kind of event, said Theriault, who recalled a train derailment several years ago that resulted in a complete evacuation.

"I just remember I had every bed filled and every pillow stuffed and everybody using everything," she said.

Officials with the Public Health Agency of Canada and Health Canada said in a statement that they have been made aware of incident and are collaborating with provincial and regional counterparts to assess the situation and take action as appropriate.

Provincial spokeswoman Laurel Ostfield said emergency professionals are on the scene and local public health officials are engaged.

 
 
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