Universities are screening students from West Africa for Ebola as they return to school

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Marco Werman: One more note on Ebola now. As we've heard, one key to keeping the disease from spreading is screening. And that's happening not just in West Africa but on college campuses right here in the United States. About 10,000 students from Nigeria, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea attend American universities and of course students are just starting a new academic year right now. Alma Olson heads Student Health Services at the University of Akron in Ohio. What screening measures have you put in place there? Alma Olson: When we first started to look at Ebola and how it would affect our campus, knowing that we had international students from these countries, I spoke with the Summit County Health Department, Dr. Margo Erme here in Ohio, to discuss what she felt about this, knowing that she keeps very close to CDC guidelines. She advised that we needed to be cautious, definitely cautious, but we did not need to be in a crisis state. She suggested that we look at screenings for the students that we had coming back from those countries, just to make sure they weren't in a high risk situation. So using CDC guidelines, we came up with a questionnaire to find out when they left their country, which is very important because of the incubation period, was there any exposure to any body fluids by somebody who was known to have Ebola virus? We do have some that do some humanitarian work, so we were concerned about that. So we gave them this questionnaire when they reached our campus. Werman: How many students do you have from the affected countries in West Africa? Olson: We have 7 graduate students that we knew of from the countries that were identified as problematic, and we had approximately 15 undergraduate students that we were able to reach during their orientation on campus. Werman: Are you taking any temperature readings? Olson: We are. They were asked to come to Health Services as soon as they got our message, which they have done. At that time, we take their temperature, we give them the questionnaire. Depending on the answers, we would know whether they were high risk thus far. Everybody that we have screened has been low risk. Then we provided them with disposable thermometers and they were to watch their temperature on a daily basis and to call us if they had any increase in temperature. What we told them was really problematic was anything over 101.5 but we also told them that even if they reached over 100 that we probably should be contacted. Werman: How do you actually strike that sensitive balance between caution and alarm? In my mind, I see a student from Guinea with his American roommate, wondering "Where are you off to Health Services so quickly after arriving on campus?" Olson: I understand what you're asking. Surprisingly so, we have not had a lot of that sort of reaction on campus and actually most of our international students do not live in the residence halls, we've found. We feel that because we're being proactive and not reactive, it would give a sense of comfort to anybody that was involved with these international students. We were more concerned of how the international students would take it that we were monitoring them. Werman: How are they taking it? How have they responded? Olson: We haven't even had anybody really concerned. They seem to be just fine with our concern and they understood our concern. We did get one response where somebody did mention that they live at least 17 hours from any area in their country that was at risk but we assured them that we were screening everybody from those countries and we had a very low suspicion of any risk. I think we've been able to put that out to the campus community. Werman: Do you have emergency plans in place in the event that you have a suspected Ebola case? Olson: We have advised the students that are at risk that what they should do is monitor their temperature. We ask them to call us, not to come up here, because we're not equipped to really handle the situation as far as the protection that we would need for the clinic and for ourselves. We have our hospital very close to here in Akron, Ohio, that we would then refer them to. Werman: Just as a talking point on campus at the start of the new year, is Ebola on people's minds? Olson: Obviously it is on anybody's mind that I have dealt with, such as Student Affairs, because I'm part of the Student Affairs division. As far as students are concerned, I don't think so. Werman: You think they're talking more about the leak of celebrity nude photos from Hollywood? Olson: Something like that. I think that we have not gotten a lot of concern and I think we would have. I mean when Mumps was the thing last year, I got a lot of calls from parents that seemed more concerned about that. I have not gotten calls from parents at all. Werman: Alma Olson heads Student Health Services at the University of Akron in Ohio. Thank you for your time. Olson: You're welcome.