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U. issues advisory in response to Ebola outbreak

The University will not support undergraduate or graduate student travel to Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria or Sierra Leone due to the recent outbreak of Ebola in the region, and those who have recently traveled to the region must report to University Health Services. The updated information was announced in a Sept. 5 administrative email following a similar warning issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In her email to students, Dean of the College Valerie Smith asked all students, faculty and staff who have recently traveled to the areas of West Africa where the Ebola virus outbreak is occurring to contact UHS or the CDC.

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Johnson outlined the symptoms of the disease, described as serious and often fatal, and urged students and faculty to communicate as much as possible with UHS and the CDC in the case of recent travel to West Africa.

“The decision was made out of an abundance of caution,” CDC spokesman Jason McDonald explained. “The outbreak there is pretty severe. It’s the largest outbreak of Ebola ever, and it’s reached a point now where the total number of cases is more than any other outbreak of Ebola in history.”

According to Mike Caddell, a University spokesman, the University’s decision is in keeping with its existing policy regarding funding for student travel to countries on the U.S. State Department Travel Warnings list or countries where the United States has issued travel restrictions.

Caddell added that the University does not know of any students or faculty who have recently been to, are currently in or are planning to travel to the affected regions.

The University's decision to issue this advisory follows the CDC’s lead and will likely last as long as the CDC warning does, Caddell said. While the CDC is not able to predict how long the travel advisory might last, taking the right precautions would help, McDonald said.

“We know that the tried and true practices of good public health can put this Ebola outbreak out,” he said.

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Students annually travel during the summer in one of the affected countries — Sierra Leone — for the University's International Internship Program. The Sierra Leone internships were cancelled in early June of this year, IIP director Luisa Duarte-Silva said, adding that the IIP program would send students to Sierra Leone again next summer provided the situation there returns to normal.

Richard Lu ’16 was originally supposed to work this summer as an intern at a comprehensive healthcare clinic in Sierra Leone, but his internship was cancelled and he was rerouted to Kenya to work for a different clinic.

Although Kenya is not on the travel advisory list of affected countries, some are concerned about Ebola in that region as well.

“IIP has not contacted us directly about the Ebola warning in Kenya,” Lu said in an email because he could not be contacted for an interview due to international travel. “Of course, we are taking extra caution in maintaining proper sanitation and care of ourselves from the warning (and will be extra careful when we go through Nairobi to come back to the US), but it is not a source of stress for us at the moment.”

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Although interns from the University were not able to make it to Sierra Leone, some recent graduates working with the Wellbody Alliance nonprofit have recently traveled to and from Sierra Leone to do some groundwork at the same clinic where Lu was supposed to go.

Shirley Gao ’13, managing director of Wellbody Alliance, worked at the clinic from July 2013 to January 2014 and then again from late February to mid-May. While the first case of Ebola in the Kono District, where Gao worked, was not confirmed until late July 2014, she said there was a lot of talk during her time there about Ebola and how the health professionals at the clinic would respond if Ebola spread to their area.

Gao noted that although operations mostly continued as usual, the clinic did temporarily shut down in mid-August.

“There was just a lot of confusion for our staff and health professionals in Sierra Leone about how to coordinate a response effort,” Gao said, “and so for the safety of our staff, our patients and our community, we decided to shut down the clinic temporarily for about two weeks.”

Although she said that she doesn’t have plans to return to Sierra Leone anytime soon, Gao added that the work at the clinic is ongoing. The clinic’s directors are now debating whether to reopen the clinic normally, use it for more of an Ebola-focused health care effort or keep it closed.

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