What seems to be the most common response at Carleton to the threat of widespread Ebola in the United States is dismissal of any such risk and acknowledgement that the most pressing issues are in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.
However, despite the clear necessity for large-scale response measures in the United States, Carleton’s student health and counseling (SHAC), along with other Rice County medical providers, have only taken small steps in preparedness.
One of SHAC’s three advanced practice nurses, Natalee Johnson was delegated by President Poskanzer to be Carleton’s representative in a web conference in early November with the president and director of the Northfield Hospital and the emergency preparedness provider and health services representatives from St. Olaf.
“The more prepared we can be in advance, the better it is for the community,” said Johnson in an interview. “We want to minimize surprises.”
Carleton’s pandemic disease team has been in existence for many years, and meets once a term to discuss measures of handling various diseases. Recently, its name was changed to “the Infectious Disease Team” to incorpo- rate diseases, such as Ebola, that are not pandemics but still warrant concern and preparedness.
Johnson said, “In light of this [Ebola] situation, the necessity of preparation is much higher than it would be for diseases like H1N1, because Ebola isn’t a pandemic. It is unlikely that we will come in contact with it, but you have to plan for the unexpected.”
The American College Health Association, the Center for Disease Control and the World Health Organization have published guidance on how to best prepare for the unlikely, but possible, chance that an Ebola case would occur at U.S. colleges.
The SHAC response is two-tiered. The first step to be taken concerns mounting signs on doors opening to SHAC that describes the symptoms associated with Ebola, as well as what to do if a student experiences those symptoms.
The sign, which is organized into a deci- sion flow chart with yes/no options (if yes then proceed to the next question, etc.), asks students if they have traveled, if they have had contact with someone with confirmed Ebola and if they have any symptoms.
If students answer yes to the final question they will be instructed on how to get in touch with the Minnesota Department of Health so that they can be monitored for further symptoms. There are currently 48 people in Minnesota that are being monitored for very low risk exposure.
If students answer yes to the questions about Ebola symptoms and are having severe body fluid symptoms such as vomiting and blood, they will be asked to stop where they are and Northfield Hospital will come and transport them to the hospital.
The other measure SHAC is taking is simply asking all students who come in to see an advanced practice nurse if they have traveled.
“We know that travel brings with it a whole host of issues, not just Ebola—malaria, TB, so it’s a pretty common question to ask,” explains Johnson.
Johnson pointed out that Northfield is a very well traveled community, especially in comparison to other nearby towns, so preparedness is important. “I think that it’s this delicate dance you do to get across the information and help people feel prepared versus ignoring it and pretending it’s not there,” she said.
Although it may seem far-flung to imagine Carleton getting wrapped up in a disease so far away, in 2003 several Carleton students were quarantined for SARs symptoms and possible exposure to the disease after a study abroad trip to China, during the SARs epidemic.
None of these students were diagnosed with SARs, but Carleton was the only col- lege in the country to experience this type of scare. Education about infectious disease is important, said Johnson. “They are part of the global situation right now, with all the travel going on.”
There are no formal plans for Johnson, the Northfield Hospital and St. Olaf representatives to continue discussion of Ebola plans.
Regardless of whether Ebola ever becomes a major issue in the United States, Johnson believes that “maybe there is another infectious disease that, with this type of preparedness, we will be better able to address when it shows up on our shores or campus.”