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Ebola scares U.S. college students

The U.S.’s Ebola panic reached San Diego County on Oct. 16, when Southwestern College in Chula Vista cordoned off a building after a student told her instructor that she and her family were quarantined after possible exposure to Ebola on a returning flight from the Midwest.

The student recanted her claims an hour later, but by that time, the scare had spread to headlines nationwide.

Similarly, a Yale student who had recently returned from a research trip in Liberia a week prior was quarantined late Oct. 15 after developing a fever. The next day Connecticut officials reported that the patient had tested negative for Ebola.

As of Oct.15, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that 8,997 people have contracted the Ebola virus disease (EVD) in Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria, Sierra Leone and Senegal. Of the persons affected, 4,492 have died, making this outbreak the biggest on record. On Oct. 17, World Health Organization (WHO) declared the Ebola outbreak in Senegal over.

According to CDC data, there have only been three cases of Ebola in the U.S.

The recent Ebola outbreak started in West Africa earlier this year. Experts believed it was first transmitted from a bat. Effects on people infected include fever symptoms, weakness, muscle pain, sore throat and extreme headaches. The virus is contagious within its nine to 21 day gestation period, but is not an airborne virus. Currently, there is no cure, but people infected can recover.

Dawne Page, department chair for the biology department, said because how the virus is transmitted, Ebola is not easily contracted.

“Ebola is more on the HIV end of diseases in the way it is hard to transmit because it requires intimate contact with another human to be contagious,” Page said. “Without bodily fluids, Ebola is not that easy to get.”

Burial practices in West Africa are partially to blame for the spread of the Ebola virus, said an article published by PBS Newsweek. After a person has died in Liberia, family members traditionally wash and lay hands on the body, bringing them in direct contact with bodily fluids that transmit the virus.

Page said the difference between Ebola’s presence in West Africa and the U.S. is the U.S.’s health care system.

“The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) does not even know if [Ebola] is at its peak,” said Page. “Intense hospital care in the United States’ government allows the best treatment, which is unfortunately not available in Africa. Hydration and isolation are the best ways to treat Ebola. In the United States, the health care system is so advanced that it is not much of a threat.”

While Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria, Senegal and Sierra Leone still battle or start to recover from the devastation of Ebola, country leaders discuss each country’s economic well-being.

Senyo Adjibolosoo, a macroeconomics professor and founder and director of the International Institute for Human Factor Development, said it’s difficult to perceive the economic effects of Ebola in West Africa.

“Ebola is too premature to look at the economic impact,” said Adjibolosoo. “Traditionally thinking, it will be negative. People are dying, and the resources are being channeled into controlling this disease. Productivity may drop during this time, which will result in a long-term decline [in Africa’s economy]. People dying from Ebola are the most active in productivity; this will result in a significant decline in economic progress.”

People’s fear of Ebola are hurting the tourist industries in the rest of Africa as more people hesitate to fly to East or South Africa despite them being thousands of miles away from countries with Ebola outbreaks.

André Steynberg, vice president of sales for Alluring Africa, a tour operator in East and South Africa, told Yahoo Travel on Oct. 9 that due to concerns of Ebola in West Africa, tourism companies are losing money.

“I would predict that 32 U.S. tour operators have lost about $2 million due to cancellations in the past week,” said Styenberg to Yahoo Travel. “[Alluring Africa] has probably lost around $350,000 in the last five days [due to clients postponing their tours].”

Locally, there are no currently known effects from Ebola on PLNU’s campus. Vice President for Student Development Caye Smith, in an email to all students Oct. 17 called “Healthy & Safety Announcement from PLNU,” reassured students, faculty, staff, parents and visitors that PLNU is connected to all the local public health officials for responsive action if Ebola ever came on campus.

“I wanted to let you know that, as a standard practice, we regularly communicate with public health officials and routinely monitor the health and welfare of the campus community,” Smith said . “As part of our health and safety planning, PLNU’s Wellness Center staff members are fully up-to-date on the CDC’s recommendations regarding infectious disease prevention and care. We are committed to following its protocols and leadership, and are prepared to take significant and immediate action on campus should the need arise.”

However, Smith made clear that the more common health concern right now is the flu.

“Although the nation is increasingly aware of the infectious disease from abroad, we want to encourage precautions against a more common local health concern,” she said. “On campuses around the country, the flu places more individuals at risk than any other infectious disease. The flu lowers immune systems and can be harmful to individuals of all ages. We strongly encourage every member of our campus community to receive a flu shot as a preventative measure. This provides a safety measure, not only for the individual, but also for the greater campus community.”

LoveWorks trips to eastern African countries are still planned for the summer of 2015. These countries include Mozambique, Rwanda, Haiti and the Dominican Republic of the Congo. Many of the LoveWorks trips are far enough from Ebola-infected areas for the program to continue this summer. The destinations depend upon international hosts who are more familiar with the area than the LoveWorks program.

“Now is not a good time to visit Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone unless people are ready to provide medical support, which our people are not trained for,” said Brian Becker, the head chair of the LoveWorks programs. “We certainly do not have any invitations this year to go to countries where there’s Ebola.”

However, Becker said that the distance from Rwanda to West Africa is like the distance from Los Angeles to New York.

“People travel less in Africa than they do in the United States,” Becker said. “My greatest concern is to see irrational fears from keeping [students] involved internationally.”