ETSU is conducting a 21-day screening of more than 10 people on campus who traveled to known Ebola outbreak sites over winter break.
“This screening process is mandated by the Tennessee Department of Health and is not specific to just the Student Health Clinic but is mandated to be done in all health care agencies in Tennessee,” said Patricia Vanhook, associate dean of practice in the ETSU College of Nursing.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention conducts screening at airports of people coming from countries — such as Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone — where an Ebola outbreak is known to have occurred. The centers also contact health departments throughout the U.S. when someone who is known to have visited an Ebola outbreak sight is traveling to their areas.
“If someone travels from those areas to our area, they are interviewed about their final destination,” said David Kirschke, medical director of the Northeast Regional Health Office of the Tennessee Department of Health. “Then, they figure out what city they are going to and they contact the regional health office there.”
When students coming from locations known to have Ebola outbreaks return to ETSU, they will be required to come in to the health department within 24 hours to be assessed for fever and other symptoms that might be indicative of Ebola.
“Throughout this process, individuals will have to check in with us every day [and] take their temperature twice a day, and we have to talk with them by phone or in person once a day during the 21-day incubation period,” Kirschke said.
The purpose of monitoring those who have traveled to infected areas is to ensure that they can be isolated if they start showing symptoms.
However, it might be difficult for health care professionals to figure out what an infected person has contracted.
“With influenza going around, it might be a little harder to tell what is what because the early symptoms of Ebola and influenza are pretty similar,” Kirschke said. “Our plan is to isolate people in the hospital to make sure it is not Ebola.”
Kirschke said if someone tested positive for Ebola, a contact investigation would be conducted to figure out who may have come in contact with the infected person.
“Ebola can’t be spread until you develop symptoms, so if they are around people before that, you’re not at risk,” Kirschke said. “The main way to get Ebola is through direct contact with body fluids, such as blood, vomit or diarrhea. Health care workers have to be the most careful because they are the ones taking care of the patients, but they wear personal protective equipment.”