Ebola precautions at area schools

KIMT News 3 – The Ebola virus has not made it’s way to our borders, but many are wondering how institutions are preparing to handle the rapidly spreading epidemic.

That includes colleges and universities, many of which host the nearly 10,000 international students who come to the country each year.

“What we really want to do is avoid a message of panic, or give an indication of panic, because when you create that, you lose all common sense, and then things get worse,” said Cerro Gordo County Dept. of Public Health Director, Ron Osterholm.

With 27 years of experience in public health, Osterholm has seen epidemics come and go.

However with a 90 percent death rate for Ebola, the virus has given even Ron cause for concern.

“I think the concern now is, that over time, we can see the numbers. It’s called a different level of attention among international communities in the field of health and medicine,” said Osterholm.

Ebola is one of the most feared viruses in recent memory, and is suspected in more than 1,550 deaths in the West African countries of Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Nigeria.

The fear of infection crossing our borders has reached a critical point, to where our most vital institutions are searching for a plan to keep the illness away. Especially those hosting international students.

The goal is simple, keep students safe on campus.

Although we may be dealing with a dangerous epidemic, sometimes the easiest solutions could be the most effective.

Terri Ewers is the Vice President of Student Services at North Iowa Area Community College and says she’s confident in the precautions the school takes, which include making sure a sick student has no reason to avoid seeing a doctor.

“They all have student insurance and we have put out a message to make them aware of what some of the first signs are. Not all colleges require that, we do, at our campus,” said Ewers.

In a survey of colleges in our area, neither the University of Minnesota, Iowa, Iowa State or Waldorf, had any changes in policies to address Ebola.

Iowa State was the only college to monitor the travels of students abroad, to assess their risk of being exposed.

This doesn’t mean however, that schools do not have policies to address any serious outbreak.

“Whether it’s H1N1 influenza or it’s a large Pertussis outbreak, you have this health assessment process in place. So, it’s not titled Ebola, but it’s titled disease response,” said Osterholm.

It isn’t totally up to the schools to protect themselves.

All international students and students studying abroad are being screened, as they make their way into the country, one student at a time.

Ron says he recommends all schools adopt a 21 day temperature monitoring system for students with fever-like symptoms.

Those with the CDC say it’s hard to tell how long it will take to contain the outbreak, so until then they have issued a level 3 travel warning to West Africa, limiting student travel to those regions.

High fever, headache and joint pain are among the symptoms common to the virus.

Health experts say unlike other viruses, the Ebola virus is very hard to go unnoticed.

Those infected feel the impact of the symptoms almost as soon as their first contact, which can transmit through skin, or the exchange of bodily fluid.

Below you will find a link from the CDC with advice for schools and colleges on ways to travel safe.

http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/page/advice-for-colleges-universities-and-students-about-ebola-in-west-africa

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