5 Ways to Prevent Ebola in Schools

Published: October 7, 2014

Editor’s Note, Oct. 15: The fatality rate of Ebola has been revised to be 70%.

The Ebola virus disease (EVD) has become an outbreak that has spread across continents and is now presenting cases in the United States. The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) has confirmed that school-aged children may have been exposed to this disease but no confirmed cases of the virus has been found in children. However, it is generally good practice for all schools to take precautionary steps to reduce the chances of a case coming to school.

It is important to note that although the EVD has been found in a person in the United States, it is a rare chance that the outbreak will spread widely as seen in other countries. The U.S. healthcare system is vastly different and the chances of survivability and containment are significantly more likely in this country than others. However, an ounce of prevention is indeed worth a pound of cure. Besides, with flu season coming up, schools should review biological incident plans and practice universal health precautions. Here are a few facts about the EVD that schools should know:

5 Facts You Should Know About Ebola
1. What Is Ebola? A little background on EVD my shed light and dispel myths about this scary virus. The Ebola virus causes an acute, serious illness, which is often fatal if untreated. EVD first appeared in 1976 in two simultaneous outbreaks, one in Nzara, Sudan, and the other in Yambuku, Democratic Republic of Congo. The latter occurred in a village near the Ebola River, from which the disease takes its name. (World Health Organization)

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2. How It Spreads Ebola spreads through human-to-human transmission via direct contact (through broken skin or mucous membranes) with the blood, secretions, organs or other bodily fluids of infected people, and with surfaces and materials (e.g. bedding, clothing) contaminated with these fluids.

Related Article: How to Plan for Campus Health Emergencies

3. Signs & Symptoms of the Ebola Signs and symptoms of EVD are very similar to other diseases in that they first appear as flu like symptoms. More specifically symptoms of Ebola HF typically include:
o Fever
o Headache
o Joint and muscle aches
o Weakness
o Diarrhea
o Vomiting
o Stomach pain
o Lack of appetite
o A Rash
o Red Eyes
o Hiccups
o Cough
o Sore throat
o Chest pain
o Difficulty breathing
o Difficulty swallowing
o Bleeding inside and outside of the body

Symptoms may appear anywhere from 2 to 21 days after exposure to EVD though 8-10 days is most common. (CDC)

4. 70% Fatality Rate According to the World Health Organization, there is no specific treatment or vaccine, and the fatality rate is currently at 70%. Patients are given supportive care, which includes providing fluids and electrolytes and food.

5. Ebola is not a risk to the general public in the United States. Schools are not at risk for Ebola infection unless a student or staff member has been in direct contact with bodily fluids of someone with Ebola while they have viral symptoms such as fever, vomiting and cough. New infections come from close contact with an infected person, especially with blood, body fluids, or contaminated needles, late in the disease when viral levels are high. It is very unlikely that U.S. schools in general will experience an outbreak.

Related Article: Help for Handling Patient Surges

Although, the Ebola outbreak is unlikely to affect schools, this event poses an opportunity for schools and youth based facilities to develop, and/or review, and update biological incident plans.

Preparing for any type of outbreak can be an extremely daunting task, but schools and educational facilities are compelled to provide for safe learning environments. All hazard planning should include protocols for outbreaks and illnesses. With that in mind, it is essential that all school communities coordinate with other planning groups such as local, state and federal public health agencies, as well as hospitals in preparation of an outbreak, and to establish operational protocols to help guide each school through common best practices

How to Plan for a Biological Incident
The following planning guidelines, with consultation through the local public health affiliates, will promote any school’s ability to meet the challenge of an outbreak:

  • Integrate the plan with the existing plans in a community and state. Be sure to include the school nurse, public health, emergency management, health care, and include janitorial staff/custodial staff in your meetings, as they are critical to ensuring that cleaning/disinfecting protocols are taking place. Ensure that all plans interface with each other, and that legal aspects are considered, so that unexpected conflicts do not occur during an outbreak.
  • Establish and implement a school-wide infection control plan in collaboration with public health and school nurses.
  • Anticipate a reduced workforce during the outbreak. It is anticipated that up to 30-40% of the workforce will not be able to report to work, either because they have the virus, or they are tending to the needs of a loved one. This may require you to establish alternative scheduling of the workplace and identify substitute teachers and parent volunteers.
  • Anticipate not having access to mutual aid or state/federal support during an outbreak. Local, state, and national response communities may be directly affected by the pandemic and not have the resources to send support to your community.
  • Establish and practice disinfecting/decontamination guidelines for all school facilities including support buildings, school buses, and other transportation vehicles.

It is equally important to remember that an outbreak (particularly influenza) tends to unfold in waves, that is, periods of exponentially increasing disease separated by periods of declining disease activity. Subsequent waves tend to be more severe than the previous waves of a pandemic.  Therefore, specific activities should be undertaken to prepare for the next wave should it happen. These activities should include the following:

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