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    November 2014

    Ebola: Protecting Your Campus, Students, and Employees

    close up of washing hands outside

    More than 4,000 people have died from the  Ebola outbreak in West Africa this year.

    If your school, college, or university has students, faculty, or staff returning from, traveling to, or in the region, you should know the disease’s symptoms and how it is transmitted. In addition, you should know the locations of confirmed cases and how to protect your campus community.

    What Is Ebola?

    Ebola is a viral hemorrhagic fever disease. It can be transmitted only through direct contact with the blood, bodily fluids, or objects contaminated with the infected secretions of a person experiencing symptoms. These symptoms may include fever, vomiting, diarrhea, muscle aches, and blood secretions appearing within three weeks of exposure.

    People are contagious only when they are symptomatic. After 21 days, if an exposed person does not develop symptoms, he or she will not become sick.

    Ebola outbreaks are particularly dangerous because there is no known vaccine or cure.


    2014 West Africa Outbreak

    On July 31, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a Level 3 Travel Warning, its highest notice level, for Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia, three countries with confirmed Ebola cases. Several confirmed cases have appeared in Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), and, most recently, Mali. The CDC released a Level 2 Travel Alert for the DRC and Mali, recommending that travelers protect themselves by avoiding contact with the blood and body fluids of people who are ill with Ebola. On Oct. 7, the CDC announced that Nigeria is free of Ebola cases and  lowered the country’s travel status to Level 1: Watch. In early August, the U.S. State Department issued travel warnings for Liberia, Nigeria, and Sierra Leone due to the outbreak.

    In Dallas, Texas, two health care workers who had contact with an Ebola patient recently tested positive for the virus. The original Ebola patient, who had recently moved to the U.S. from Liberia, died. After receiving medical care, both nurses are now free of the Ebola virus.

    Airports in West Africa are screening departing passengers for Ebola. CDC-trained workers are using questionnaires and infrared thermometers to assess everyone leaving the region. Trained Border Patrol agents and CDC staff are watching for travelers with signs of exposure at many international airports in the United States.


    Handling Students and Staff in West Africa

    • Provide transportation options back to the U.S. for students and staff in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone. Consider doing the same for students or staff in nearby countries.
    • State in writing that remaining in the region is completely voluntary; a student’s program or a staff member’s job does not depend on it. In consultation with legal counsel, consider drafting a release specific to the Ebola outbreak for anyone who then chooses to stay in the region. The release should be discussed in a meeting with the students or staff in the region concerning the outbreak and its potential effects.
    • Avoid all unnecessary travel to Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone while the CDC Level 3 Travel Alert is in effect. As an additional precaution, consider postponing trips to other countries in the West Africa region, such as Nigeria, DRC, Senegal, Mali, and Ghana. Although many borders in the region are already closed, their proximity creates a possibility that the Ebola outbreak may spread. 

    Handling the Campus

    • Screen students and staff who recently visited West Africa for Ebola using a qualified medical professional. Medical professionals can refer to the CDC’s Advice for Colleges, Universities, and Students about Ebola in West Africa to help guide their assessment of potential medical needs.
    • Consider alerting the entire campus community about the Ebola screening requirement. For example, in August, Harvard University sent a letter to its community on Ebola Symptoms and Prevention Tips that asks travelers from Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Nigeria to communicate with health services prior to returning to campus.  Harvard released another letter in October reiterating its discouragement of all travel to Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea.  

    Resources

    Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Advice for Colleges, Universities, and Students about Ebola in West Africa
    Travel Alerts, Warnings, and Advisories

    Preparing for Flu and Other Pandemics

    Checklist for Drafting Effective Releases

    By Melanie Bennett, JD, assistant risk analyst


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