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Thursday, August 28, 2014

Universities Take Precautions Against Ebola

Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia, is among those canceling its fall programs in West Africa. Pictured are incoming freshman attending Liberty University's summer orientation. (Ty Hester/Liberty University via Facebook)

Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia, is among those canceling its fall programs in West Africa. Pictured are incoming freshman attending the university’s summer orientation. (Ty Hester/Liberty University via Facebook)

The World Health Organization has announced that the Ebola virus continues to spread, and there are now predictions that it could afflict more than 20,000 people.

With the growing concern, many universities around the world have suspended their fall semester programs in West Africa.

Dr. Richard Lane is director of the Master of Public Health program at Liberty University, a private Christian college in Lynchburg, Virginia. It’s among the universities that have canceled their fall study abroad programs in West Africa.

Liberty University also surveyed all students to find out if they’ve traveled through West Africa. For students who have, the university is asking them to take their temperature twice a day to monitor for fever, one of the first symptoms of Ebola.

Like many large universities, we recruit students from abroad and we wanted to look and see how many we had coming, see how ​soon before classes they were arriving, and determine whether there was actually any risk,” Lane told Here & Now’s Sacha Pfeiffer.

“Just because there’s the disease in some area of that country, even if it’s across town it doesn’t mean you’re at risk of being exposed to that disease.”
– Dr. Richard Lane

Between 17 students from Nigeria and students who traveled independently over the summer, none of the students had direct contact with the Ebola virus, but the university is still monitoring them for the community’s safety. But Lane says that no one should be concerned.

“If they traveled to those particular countries, there’s not necessarily a risk and people need to understand that,” he explained. “You’ve got a big country, and just because there’s the disease in some area of that country, even if it’s across town it doesn’t mean you’re at risk of being exposed to that disease.”

As a specialist in public health and tropical medicine, Lane is particularly enjoying the chance to interact with students from the region as he monitors their condition.

“They can tell you how their country is responding and the fear that some of these people are experiencing in these countries,” he said. “They bring a real understanding of how the culture works and how the lack of infrastructure in these African nations contributes to the occurrence of Ebola.”

No one has reported a fever so far, but area health centers and hospitals are prepared to isolate anyone who does during the 21-day incubation period. When the three weeks are over, Lane will continue to watch the Ebola outbreak, hoping it will be controlled in time for a group of faculty and students to travel to Benin in December.

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Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

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