The holiday travel season is in full gear, and along with increased travel comes a not-so-merry increase in the spread of viruses. Many travel every year to and from Columbia to see their loved ones, especially students rushing home after a stressful week of finals that has left their immune systems susceptible to sickness. The recent outbreak of Ebola may have some travelers wondering if there is more to worry about this year than the usual colds and flu.
Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) is a form of viral hemorrhagic fevers (VHFs). According to the CDC, VHFs are a group of illnesses caused by multisystem syndrome, meaning that the virus can affect multiple organ systems in the body. Direct contact with an infected person’s bodily fluids, such as blood and urine, is the only way to transmit Ebola. Symptoms do not begin to occur until two to 21 days after exposure.
The first known Ebola outbreak occurred in 1976 in two villages in central Africa. The virus was contained and only caused minimum casualties. However, this year’s outbreak in West Africa is the largest Ebola outbreak in history. There have been only a few confirmed cases of the virus in the U.S.,
Thomas Eric Duncan, a Liberian tourist who was diagnosed with the virus on Sept. 30, 2014, originally brought the Ebola virus to the U.S. Duncan supposedly did not know he was infected when he flew from Liberia to Texas. He later died in a Dallas hospital on Oct. 8. More recent stories, such as Duncan’s infected nurse who took a flight and could have infected 132 people, have only caused further panic throughout the country. Many now worry how harmful the virus could be to our nation. The concern of an outbreak hitting the Midwest is something many are worried about.
“I am not scared. Maybe I should be, but I am not,” said Pam Roe Pam Roe, strategic communications associate from the Student Health Center. “More people will die from influenza this year than Ebola. You have to understand that there will always be viruses. It is just our responsibility to take the proper precautions to prevent them.”
Andrea Waner, the public information officer for the Missouri Health Department, also does not fear the virus outbreak.
“We are very, very low risk,” Waner said. “And that’s not only coming from the CDC, but also the World Health Organization and most experts in the field.”
Waner explained that if Ebola were to affect Columbia, the health department would then follow the CDC guidelines to prevent any further spread. They would base the level of risk using the CDC’s scale of high risk and low risk and handle the infected persons based off this scale.
Waner believes that a big difference in the virus spreading in the U.S. versus Africa is that the U.S does not have a natural reservoir for the spread of the virus.
“The landscape of things is completely different, and the two cases that have occurred here are a result of someone brought in carrying the virus,” Waner said.
Dr. Susan Even, the MU Student Health Center’s executive director, also feels there is a slim chance for this virus to hit Columbia and the MU campus. She stated that the MU Student Health Center is following the CDC’s guidelines for colleges and universities. They are also working closely with University Health Care’s infection control department to ensure that all appropriate procedures are in place if a student shows potential symptoms of Ebola.
She explained the process the MU Student Health Center undergoes when screening for these types of viruses. If a student were to report a fever, the nurses are trained to then ask the student about the fever and their recent travel history, since fever is a symptom of the Ebola virus. If the student is thought to possibly have Ebola virus or has come into contact with someone infected, the student is then placed on the CDC high or low risk scale. In a worst-case scenario, emergency medical staff members are made aware of the potential virus before the responders arrive on scene. This ensures the ambulance and other health care professionals have all the protective gear necessary to keep the virus contained.
“They will use the protective gear and then use the appropriate disinfecting agents to remove any virus from the surfaces in the room that the patient may have contacted,” Even said.
There is currently no known cure for Ebola, and symptoms are treated as they appear.
“You have to pay attention to the science,” Even said. She explained that precautions are necessary, but some precautions, like mandatory quarantine, could prevent those that may be infected from speaking up. She believes that someone should not be placed under quarantine until symptoms are confirmed.
A complete list of the early symptoms for the virus include fever, headache, diarrhea, vomiting, stomach and muscle pains, or unexplained bruising or bleeding. Infected patients without symptoms are not contagious.
For more information on Ebola, you can visit http://www.cdc.gov/vhf/ebola/index.html.