With much in the news about responses to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, I wanted to confirm that both Vassar’s Health Services and our Crisis Response Planning Group are staying current with practices and protocols called for by the responsible local, state, and federal agencies. This week our Crisis Response Planning Group and Director of Health Services jointly met with the Dutchess County Department of Health’s Director of Communicable Disease Control. The county health department is the lead local agency on this matter, and they serve as our key point of contact for protocols established by the federal Centers of Disease Control (CDC) and the New York State Department of Health.
The CDC continues to post travel warnings for the countries where Ebola outbreaks have occurred, recommending that people avoid non-essential travel to Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone and that education-related travel to these countries be postponed until further notice. Vassar currently prohibits college-related and college-sponsored travel to these countries. Regarding the small number of cases reported in Nigeria and a single case reported in Senegal, these are considered to be contained with no further spread seen in these countries.
The CDC states that while sporadic cases of Ebola have appeared in the U.S., including recently in New York City, the risk to the general domestic population remains very low. Nevertheless, increased vigilance is required on campus as early recognition of any viral illness is important for controlling its spread.
If following recent travel to an affected area someone on campus were to show a combination of symptoms that suggest they possibly contracted the Ebola virus, any further diagnosis and treatment of the person would be immediately facilitated off-campus by the Dutchess Country Department of Health, working with designated local hospitals. Such concern would be for a person exhibiting fever combined with symptoms such as severe headache, muscle and abdominal pain, nausea or unexplained bleeding.
The Ebola virus is spread only through direct contact with the bodily fluids of a person with an active Ebola infection or through exposure to objects like needles that have been contaminated with body secretions. But it is always good practice to avoid contact with anyone who is sick and has a fever while traveling, and to pay attention to proper hygiene by washing your hands regularly.
New York State and the State of New Jersey have expanded upon CDC protocols and imposed additional measures to identify and monitor individuals who recently spent time in one of the three countries most affected by Ebola or individuals who have recently cared for patients with the virus. Therefore it is very unlikely that a traveler will present with symptoms on our campus.
New York State has established a toll-free public information line to answer questions about Ebola, staffed 24 hours a day and seven days a week by trained operators: 1-800-861-2280. This line is for public health information purposes only. If you require medical attention, immediately call the college’s Health Service (845-437 5800), your personal health care provider, or 911.
The Dutchess County Department of Health provides information online (http://www.co.dutchess.ny.us/CountyGov/Departments/Health/23739.htm), and also recommends these links for further information:
http://www.cdc.gov/vhf/ebola/index.html (Centers for Disease Control main webpage about Ebola)
http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/page/advice-for-colleges-universities-and-students-about-ebola-in-west-africa (CDC advice on education-related travel)
http://www.health.ny.gov/diseases/communicable/ebola/ (NY State Department of Health main webpage on Ebola)
http://www.acha.org/Topics/ebola.cfm (American College Health Association main web page on Ebola)
Please direct campus-related questions to me at x5600 or email@example.com, and thanks to everyone for their efforts during this public health challenge.
Dean of the College
Chair, Crisis Response Planning Group