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Is Ebola a threat to TJC?

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Earlier this year, fears of Ebola gripped the nation, especially when two Americans were killed by the deadly virus. The scare may have calmed down a bit by now, but holiday travel may threaten to speed up the spread of the disease.

TJC has students from the Democratic Republic of Congo. The Democratic Republic of Congo has passed the 42-day period needed to be declared Ebola-free, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website, CDC.gov. This means that precautions are still necessary in order to help combat this often-deadly virus from spreading.

The CDC categorizes Ebola stricken countries into three levels: level 1, indicates some precautions are necessary; level 2, includes enhanced precautions; and level 3 recommends that unnecessary travel be avoided entirely.

The CDC has released guidelines for colleges that have transfer students coming in from areas that are known to have the virus. For the most part, the guidelines are standard procedures for hospitals such as monitoring persons returning from areas for the suggested time frame (21 days), wearing personal protective equipment (or PPE), and notifying state or local health department immediately if Ebola is suspected.

Jeffrey Levin, Senior Vice President for Clinical and Academic affairs for UT Northeast, said East Texas is becoming more prepared to handle an outbreak.

“I think preparedness is never absolute,” Levin said, “I think when things started weeks ago, we were prepared in some respects, but we have done much better over the last several weeks in comparison to where we were when all of this started.”

A person has to be exposed to the virus in order to get the disease, and PPE may not be sufficient protection, according to Levin. Having a minimal amount of people helping to care for a patient who has been infected can lessen the chance that the virus can spread to healthy people.

“From what we understand, the Ebola virus disease is transmitted by contact with the infected body fluids of an individual who has the disease and is symptomatic with the disease,” he says. “The PPE that we use is designed to serve as a barrier between our bodies, the healthcare provider and the body fluids of the individual who has the disease and is symptomatic.”

This can include liquid-proof gowns, gloves, visors or facemasks. These barriers can be key in helping to stop the spread of the virus. Specialized pieces of equipment, such as respirators, can help to prevent breathing the air, more specifically small droplets that can enter into the lungs through breathing.

“We only have four students from the Democratic Republic of Congo, so the three countries that are mostly Level 3 are Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia,” said Dr. Stephanie Eijsink, TJC’s on-campus doctor, “Nigeria was, but it has been brought back to level 1 now.”

Earlier this year, Navarro College aroused controversty by denying access to African students, including those from Ebola-free nations. The media gave this behavior a name: Ebola racism. TJC President Dr. Mike Metke says that TJC will not be taking this route.

“I want to make decisions based on medicine, and not fear and panic,” he says. “If you read the blog I did for the Huffington Post, it was all about safety and student safety, and that’s my job — to make sure our students are safe here when they attend, to assure parents. But when it tips to hysteria, we’re going to make our decisions based medical practice, and not on some kind of hysteria.

“The truth is of all the things I think that could endanger our safety, I don’t know if Ebola is in the top 50. There are lots of things that I worry about happening here, and certainly we worry about Ebola, but with the hysteria in the news, it’s a bit much. We’re going to rely our physician, we’re going to rely on medical knowledge and science and we’re not going to rely on popular media.”

On November 11, Dr. Metke sent out an email regarding the epidemic with a letter attached from Dr. Eijsink stating that they “would request that no one travel to these countries or even to West Africa until further notice.”

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