It’s hard to turn on a television, listen to the radio, or browse the Internet without coming across a story about Ebola virus disease. The cause for alarm is certainly understandable. According to the World Health Organization, the Ebola fatality rate is around 50 percent — it has reached 90 percent in previous outbreaks.
Ebola is transmitted from one human to another via direct contact with the bodily fluids of an infected individual. As of now, there is no known cure or approved Ebola vaccine. While Ebola outbreaks were mostly confined to West Africa, there have been recent cases in other parts of the world, including the United States.
The Risk of Ebola in College Campuses
As with any contagious disease, Ebola poses a particular threat in large population centers. College campuses are no exception. While no confirmed Ebola cases have been reported on any U.S. college campuses, the close proximity that students have to one another could place them at an elevated risk of infection. While there is no immediate concern about an outbreak, college administrators and health officials should consider implementing preventive measures to mitigate the risks.
Ebola Outbreak Prevention Steps
According to Craig Roberts, chair of American College Heath Association’s (ACHA) emerging public health threats and emergency response coalition, colleges should consider implementing an Ebola prevention policy based on screening and surveillance. Roberts recommends adherence to the guidelines recently proposed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:
- The CDC does not recommend quarantining students who have recently returned from nations where a large numbers of Ebola cases have been reported. These nations include Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea. However, colleges should conduct an immediate assessment on these individuals to determine their level of risk exposure.
- Students returning from these countries should be given instructions for self-monitoring of their health over a period of 21 days.
- Students who are asymptomatic for 21 days should be considered free of the Ebola virus. They pose no risk to other students.
- If a student has possible exposure to Ebola, school administrators should be notified immediately. Administrators should then contact public health officials for guidance on how to monitor the student for possible Ebola symptoms. The student should also be instructed to avoid contact with other students.
- A student deemed as having a low- or high-risk Ebola exposure should be medically evaluated using accepted infection control procedures.
Steps for Safeguarding the Campus
The CDC also recommends several steps that campuses should take to keep students, teachers, and other staff safe:
- Educate health center workers on potential signs and symptoms of Ebola in the individuals they treat.
- Educate individuals who have recently returned from Ebola-infected nations. Inform them of self-monitoring and the importance of reporting possible Ebola symptoms.
- Post general information about Ebola throughout the campus. Use on-campus television networks and video signage in high-population areas to spread the word.
The tone used in any communications regarding Ebola should be informational and should not cause fear or incite panic. Campuses have an extremely low risk of an Ebola outbreak.
What Can Students Do to Protect Themselves?
College students currently have a low risk for contracting Ebola. However, students who have recently returned from a country with a recently-reported Ebola outbreak should follow a few self-monitoring steps for 21 days after their arrival in the U.S. To self-monitor, you should:
- Take your temperature every morning and evening. A slight fever does not necessarily mean you have Ebola, as the virus is normally only present when the body temperature exceeds 100.4°F.
- Ebola symptoms mimic the flu, so be vigilant for flu-like symptoms such as headache, nausea, diarrhea, or muscle pain. A unique Ebola symptom is unexpected bleeding from body orifices, which is often a sign of internal hemorrhaging.
- Limit contact with the bodily fluids of others such as blood, vomit, urine, and saliva. This is how the Ebola virus is spread.
It’s important to note that Ebola is not contagious until the symptoms actually appear. Coming in contact with the bodily fluids of an asymptomatic individual is not likely to expose you to the Ebola virus — even if the individual develops symptoms at a later date.
If you do experience Ebola-like symptoms, it’s imperative to seek medical treatment immediately. While it is unlikely that the symptoms are related to Ebola, it’s possible that you could have the flu, which could easily be spread to other students on campus.