By Thomas Albano
Ebola has taken over the news media for a while now in the United States, and the disease has touched some Rider students.
A student from Sierra Leone and his immediate family are healthy, but have been greatly affected by the disease, according to Anthony Campbell, dean of students.
“He’s telling me he can’t go back over there, and he’s lost some family members,” Campbell said. “His family can’t go back. They’ve been here for five years, and he has a lot of close relatives over there in Sierra Leone. But, because of Ebola, they can’t go back there and they can’t have the relatives visit.”
The 2014 Ebola outbreak, which has affected thousands of West Africans, is the largest outbreak of this disease in history, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Senior journalism major Robert Knuckles, who lives in Bucks County, Pa., has family members who have come from areas now affected by Ebola, and some who are still there.
“Both my mom and my dad came from Liberia, pretty much where it’s happening right now. All my family is from there,” Knuckles said. “My family — uncles and aunts — that are here in America right now, they can’t go back to Liberia anytime soon with the whole Ebola crisis.”
The CDC defines Ebola as “a rare and deadly disease caused by infection with one of the Ebola virus strains.” Symptoms of Ebola include fever, muscle and stomach pains and unexplained bleeding or bruising; however, the only way a human can catch the disease is through direct contact with bodily fluids of someone with it, or objects that have been contaminated with infected bodily fluids.
As of Nov. 14, the countries of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone have total combined cases of 14,413 in 2014, with 5,177 total deaths, according to the CDC. Meanwhile, the United States has had four total cases, with the only deaths coming from a man who traveled from Liberia to Dallas, and more recently a doctor from Sierra Leone.
Knuckles still has a grandmother in Liberia, and has concerns about her.
“She’s been living there her entire life, and I’m just worried about whether she’s OK or not,” Knuckles said. “From what we’ve heard, she’s OK, but who knows how long that’s going to last.”
According to Campbell, any student from an Ebola-affected area will be able to work out a way to reside in the university’s dorms over Thanksgiving, and even Christmas if need be, like any other international student.
“We do that all the time with international students, and with students from California or even with students who don’t have a place to go and live close by,” Campbell said. “We work out an arrangement for them to stay on campus during breaks. That’s our typical policy.”
Also, services, such as the counseling center, will be available to any student or faculty member who may need them.
“This is not just a student issue,” Campbell said. “We have a community that we work with and support. It’s hard. If your family were there, you’d mention how you would feel. You’d be concerned for them.”
Knuckles says that the seriousness of Ebola should not be underestimated and any jokes about the disease are not welcome.
“For Halloween, people were trying to dress up as Ebola patients,” Knuckles said. “Really, why are you doing that?”
Knuckles was critical of news coverage of the Ebola outbreak in West Africa and of the limited cases in the United States, saying that more people should be aware of what is going on.
Campbell, also believes that more should be known about the disease.
“What I think is, we don’t have enough information in the public arena about it,” Campbell said. “So, when you have gaps of information, people fill the gaps with fear.”
Although no case has been officially confirmed in New Jersey, Rider has already taken precautions when it comes to the possibility of Ebola’s presence.
An email from University Communications was sent out to the Rider community on Aug. 22, asking any student who traveled to Guinea, Nigeria, Liberia or Sierra Leone within the month to contact the Health Center. It then said that the school would continue to work with the New Jersey Department of Health (NJDOH).
In the event that a case appears in the state, but not on Rider’s campus, Campbell said a warning will be issued as soon as possible, and the school will treat it the way it treated the norovirus outbreak of 2012, which caused approximately 40 students to be transported to local hospitals.
“We would warn our people these are the
precautions — sort of like we did with norovirus,” Campbell said. “[We would be] informing people what to do. If there’s not a case on campus, there’s no real danger. Unless you’re in contact with the infected person during the time where they’re experiencing symptoms, you’re not in a position of getting it. So we would spend time educating, we would spend time working, and we would work with the departments of health.”
If a case came to Rider, however, Campbell said the situation would be monitored even more closely, as each case is unique. At that point, the school would work with various health departments as well as the CDC and other emergency medical crews.
“We’d be working with our community and we’d be following all sorts of regulations and plans,” Campbell said. “We have healthcare providers. We have information that we would work with. Again, we would be tracking people that were in contact, but as long as you weren’t involved with bodily fluids, your chances of catching it are not very high. So, we do have a plan in cooperation with the other governmental agencies that are experts in this area.”
Campbell thinks the best precautionary measure is to educate the public on Ebola.
“The plan that we have deals with education through perceptions and dealing with the actual,” Campbell said. “So you’ve got to do both.”
By Thomas Albano