CDC advises universities to take precautions against Ebola

By Jake Alsko

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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently advised American colleges and universities, and any students or staff arriving from nations affected by the Ebola outbreak in West Africa to take precautions against spreading the disease.

Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria and Sierra Leone are all experiencing Ebola outbreaks.

55 to 60 percent of reported Ebola cases in the current outbreak have been fatal. In previous outbreaks the disease has killed as many as 90 percent of those infected.  

Ebola is a severe acute viral illness often characterized by the sudden onset of fever, intense weakness, muscle pain, headache and sore throat. This is followed by vomiting, diarrhoea, rash, impaired kidney and liver function, and in some cases, both internal and external bleeding, according to the World Health Organization.

The CDC is not recommending colleges and universities isolate or quarantine students, faculty or staff based on travel history alone, but is advising institutions to identify those who have been in countries where Ebola-stricken countries within the past 21 days and conduct a risk assessment with each identified person to determine his or her level of risk exposure (high or low-risk exposures, or no known exposure).

Symptoms may appear anywhere from two to 21 days after exposure to the virus with eight to 10 days being the most common. The virus is spread through direct contact (through broken skin or mucous membranes) with a sick person’s blood or body fluids (urine, saliva, feces, vomit and semen), or objects (such as needles) that have been contaminated with infected body fluids and infected animals.

“I have to stress I am very unconcerned about Ebola migrating to the Metro Detroit area,” said Samantha Damren, Adult Nurse Practitioner at Oakland University’s Graham Health Center. “I don’t think it’s beyond the realm of possibility, but it’s something that I’m not particularly scared of.”

Ebola is not contagious until symptoms appear and the CDC considers it of little risk to the general population of the United States due to the close contact necessary to transmit the disease and the modern health care system that the country possesses. 

Damren, citing Oakland County Health Division Administrator Shane Bies, said that if GHC suspected a patient might have Ebola, they would notify the county’s epidemiology unit and follow their instruction.

“GHC follows protocols handed down to us from the Oakland County Health Department, which follows protocols handed down to them from Michigan Department of Community Health, and above that, CDC,” Damren said. “We don’t have our own set policy here at GHC for how we would handle anyone with Ebola. It’s very protocol-driven so if we had any suspicions we would enact (that) chain of information.”

Ebola is not capable of airborne transmission in humans, but some figures in the medical community are upset with the lack of discussion regarding the possibility that it could spread, mutate and become transmissible through the air if the disease is not contained.

Michael T. Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, raised the question in a September 11 Op-Ed for The New York Times.

“Why are public officials afraid to discuss this? They don’t want to be accused of screaming ‘Fire!’ in a crowded theater — as I’m sure some will accuse me of doing,” Osterholm said. “But the risk is real, and until we consider it, the world will not be prepared to do what is necessary to end the epidemic.”

The West Africa Ebola outbreaks are considered harder to control because of the region’s lack of modern health care facilities. While it is imperative for the outbreak to be contained to ensure Ebola does not reach epidemic levels in other countries like the U.S., the most important thing Americans can do for now is to practice good hygiene and not hesitate to get checked out if they feel sick. 

“I don’t think anyone here is acutely concerned about the OU student-faculty or staff being immediately susceptible to Ebola,” Damren said. “But if anyone has fevers, abdominal pains, muscle aches, headaches, they don’t feel well, we certainly urge you to come in. 

“If you’ve been abroad or you’ve been traveling recently, all the more reason to just get checked out.”