Officially known as Ebola hemorrhagic fever, the virus was first discovered in what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo in 1976. Since then, there have been many small outbreaks across the African continent, but the current epidemic in the West of the region is the worst in history, with cases being reported in Nigeria, Senegal, Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.
The only cases ever reported on U.S. soil have been travel and healthcare-associated, someone who was caring for an Ebola patient who became infected in another country.
With the situation in West Africa worsening, Western media outlets have devoted endless hours of air time to the topic, leading many to call for the U.S. government to ban all travel to and from infected areas.
The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that the worldwide death toll for 2014 is around 5,000. Poor African countries face a lack of healthcare and education in dealing with the pandemic.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), there are three ways in which you can contract the Ebola virus:
1. Touching the blood or body fluids of a person who is sick with or has died from Ebola.
2. Touching contaminated objects, like needles.
3. Touching infected fruit bats, apes or monkeys.
While the possibility of coming into contact with a contagious ape on campus is staggeringly small, if there was a localized outbreak, it is left to question how prepared NCC is to handle a situation like this.
“We’re all going to get Ebola and die,” said one Automotive major who wishes to remain anonymous. “I think it’s 100% likely that Ebola will come to the Lehigh Valley. The government aren’t taking it seriously, they aren’t taking the right precautions,” he continued.
The closest infected patient to Pennsylvania is a New York City doctor, who is said by the CDC to be receiving treatment in Maryland. On Oct. 28, the Department of Health announced over 100 people are being monitored in Pennsylvania after arriving in the U.S. from a country where the virus is a serious threat, but to date none of those people have tested positive.
“If someone has traveled to one of those countries, infection could possibly happen,” said Irene Dorville, NCC’s Nurse, based in the Health & Wellness Center.
“There can be a lot of fear, especially when people travel. The chances of anyone coming to NCC with the virus is low, but we should all remain aware and educated,” she added.
Nurse Dorville, who has been advised by St. Luke’s on the steps to take in the event of a student falling ill with the virus at school, will distribute posters around campus explaining exactly what students should look out for, and exactly how the virus is transmitted, to ensure all students are aware of the threat level, however minimal.
The CDC has outlined the following as symptoms of Ebola: fever, headache, diarrhea, vomiting, stomach pain, unexplained bleeding or bruising and muscle pain.
The virus is not known to be spread through casual contact, air, water or food grown in the U.S.
“I stopped sharing drinks with other people, and I wash my hands a lot more often at campus and at home,” said Nick Molina, Secondary Ed.
“It is a pandemic, it’s a sickness with a possibility of spreading everywhere,” he added.
Ebola is not airborne, meaning someone cannot be infected through germs in the air after an infected person coughs or sneezes. Airborne diseases, like chickenpox and tuberculosis are spread through the air and do not require direct contact with an infected person. Ebola is spread after direct contact with bodily fluids (urine, feces, spit, sweat, vomit, semen, breast milk).
“Students would really have to have contact with an infected person, or have traveled to an area like Sierra Leone, Guinea or Liberia to be concerned. A person has to be in the really advanced stages of the illness to be contagious, it doesn’t happen in the early stages,” Dorville said.
Anyone with healthcare concerns may contact the Health and Wellness center, located in College Center room 120.
For more information on the Ebola outbreak, visit http://www.cdc.gov/vhf/ebola/