Boston Colleges Prepare for Students’ Arrival from West Africa

Augustine Goba, laboratory director at Kenema Government Hospital Lassa fever laboratory, diagnosed the first case of Ebola in Sierra Leone.
Augustine Goba, laboratory director at Kenema Government Hospital Lassa fever laboratory, diagnosed the first case of Ebola in Sierra Leone. –STEPHEN GIRE

As the Ebola outbreak rages in West Africa, universities in Boston prepare to open their doors to students from all over the world. Though the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the outbreak “does not pose a significant risk’’ to the American public, area colleges have plans in place in the event of a student arriving with Ebola.

As of Thursday, the CDC reported 3,069 cases of Ebola and 1,552 suspected case deaths. The five countries currently affected are all located in West Africa: Liberia, Guinea, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, and as of today, Senegal. Though no cases have been contracted in the United States, two Americans recently recovered from Ebola in Emory Hospital. The current outbreak is one of the largest Ebola outbreaks in history.


How a few local colleges are preparing:

Boston University

Colin Riley, BU’s Executive Director of Media Relations, said BU has fewer than 10 undergrads and about 20 graduate students from Nigeria this fall. There are no students from Liberia, Sierra Leone, or Guinea.

Riley said in the past two weeks, all students from Nigeria have been contacted by BU medical personnel and given a “quick questionnaire,’’ which asked where they have traveled recently and how they have been feeling.

Riley said BU is following federal guidelines regarding the outbreak and preventative measures.

Harvard University

The protocol for students returning to Harvard’s campus was released by Harvard University Health Services on Aug. 8. The university announced that all travelers from Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Nigeria must communicate with Harvard University Health Services within 48 to 72 hours of their departure from one of the affected countries.

In a letter to the Harvard community, Harvard Provost Alan M. Garber said student health services would arrange a brief telephone assessment to “help determine steps’’ before travelers from affected countries arrived.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Kim Schive, communications coordinator for MIT Medical, posted a message addressing the outbreak to the MIT Medical website: “According to MIT Medical’s associate medical director Howard Heller, M.D., an infectious disease specialist, MIT Medical is following the most recent Ebola advisory for colleges and universities from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health.’’ Members of the MIT community who are from, or who recently have traveled to affected countries have all been contacted directly.


Like Harvard University, MIT requests that all individuals returning from affected areas contact campus health officials to identify their level of risk and “if necessary, be instructed on how to monitor their health until the 21-day incubation period has passed.’’

Schive closed the post with a message from Heller: “We will continue to monitor the situation closely…and we will keep the community informed. Our recommendations and outreach efforts may change as the situation evolves.’’

Friday, the Associated Press reported that some college students from West Africa may be subject to “extra health checks’’ when they arrive to US campuses.

While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have issued no specific recommendations for colleges, some state health departments, including in South Carolina and North Dakota, have spelled out for administrators what symptoms to look for and how to react. Elsewhere, universities are drafting their own precautionary plans against the often-fatal hemorrhagic fever, which causes weakness, vomiting, diarrhea, internal bleeding and sometimes bleeding from the nose and ears.

While the AP reports that some colleges will check the temperatures of students arriving from affected countries, the American College Health Association recommends that schools update emergency plans and use isolation exam rooms whenever possible.

US universities count 9,728 active students from Nigeria, 204 from Liberia, 169 from Sierra Leone and 95 students from Guinea, according to the federal government.

The Boston Public Health Commission and the Massachusetts Department of Public Health recently released an Ebola advisory for colleges and universities: “Colleges and universities should be aware of, and evaluate, members of their community who return to campus within 21 days of being in an area of the Ebola outbreak.’’

The advisory states that the likelihood of becoming infected with Ebola is “very small’’ unless a person has been to an infected area, and has had direct contact with bodily fluids from a person or animal infected with Ebola. It is also possible to contract the virus through contact with objects contaminated with infected bodily fluids.

If the individual shows no symptoms of Ebola 21 days after returning from an outbreak area, the advisory states that person is no longer a public health risk.

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