UNL issued the following message Oct. 22, 2014, regarding the Ebola situation in West Africa and recent domestic cases.
Greetings and welcome back from Fall Break. We’re aware that members of the UNL community have questions about the outbreak of Ebola in a handful of West African countries, as well as recent domestic cases. Since August, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln has been developing plans to diminish the already small risk to our campus. This message is intended to keep you informed of those plans, as well as to help you understand the virus and to provide other useful information.
First, it’s important to recognize that there is not an outbreak of Ebola in the United States. Further, the risk of the virus coming to UNL remains extremely low. The CDC and other authorities emphasize that Ebola is not highly contagious. Given that, and given the strong public health and infectious disease safety nets in Nebraska, students, faculty and staff should not be overly concerned about an outbreak here. In this well-traveled world, however, nothing is impossible. So it is prudent to be prepared.
The facts about Ebola
Ebola is a virus with symptoms that include fever, headache, joint and muscle aches, weakness, diarrhea, vomiting, rashes and abnormal bleeding. According to medical experts, the longest it can take someone who has been exposed to Ebola to show symptoms is 21 days. After that, they are not considered to be at risk. The virus is transmitted by direct contact with the blood or bodily fluids of an infected person or through exposure to objects – such as needles – that have been contaminated with infected secretions. Ebola cannot be transmitted through the air like the flu. Also, a person must be showing symptoms to be infectious. More information about the virus is at the University Health Center’s website.
What you should do if you think you have symptoms of Ebola
Remain calm. If you may have had exposure to Ebola or traveled in one of the countries with an Ebola outbreak and if you become ill with a fever and/or display the symptoms listed above, call your primary health-care provider or the University Health Center nurse at 402-472-7477 for instructions. Be sure to tell the nurse about your recent travel and current symptoms.
The initial symptoms of influenza are similar. As we enter influenza season, we encourage all students, faculty and staff to consider getting a flu shot to help stop the spread of influenza as well. Contact your health-care provider or the University Health Center for more information.
What UNL has done
In addition to educational and outreach efforts, UNL in August made contact with students who may have traveled from any of the affected countries to conduct precautionary screenings and monitor their health at that time. This involved a very small number of people and resulted in no concerns.
Meanwhile, UNL has been closely monitoring the developments and is carefully following all recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and local and state health departments. University medical professionals take a comprehensive travel history from any patient who presents with a fever. If anyone with a fever were to have visited a country where Ebola is prevalent within the last 21 days, they would immediately be isolated and transported to the hospital. The state department of health and the CDC would be notified in accordance with CDC guidelines.
What is being done to minimize future risk - travel policy
It is the policy of the University of Nebraska system that no university-sponsored program of travel for students shall leave from the United States for a country for which the CDC has issued a Travel Health Notification Level 3. This currently includes the countries of Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea. On Oct. 21, the policy was modified to include a requirement for faculty or staff members seeking to travel to those countries to gain prior approval from their Chancellor and the president of the university system before traveling. Read the policy here.
What we can expect going forward
The university community should be aware but not afraid and be assured that there are structures are in place to respond if necessary. We also recognize this is an evolving situation, and we’re continuing to gather information from the appropriate authorities. We will be sure to communicate with students, faculty and staff with new information if the need arises.
Here are some facts about Ebola from the UNL University Health Center. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also has shared guidelines for colleges and universities and students, as well as the latest information on the situation in West Africa and a Q&A about the virus.