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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Local universities screen students who traveled to Ebola-plagued countries

Dr. Robert Palinkas, director of the McKinley Health Center at the University of Illinois, poses in an exam room in Urbana, Ill., Thursday, Aug. 21, 2014. Extra health checks are part of protocols campuses throughout the United States have in place as they prepare for as many as 10,000 students from Nigeria, Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, where more than 1,000 people have died in the worst Ebola outbreak in history. (Michael Conroy / Associated Press)

As students return to colleges and universities, school officials locally say they’ve followed federal guidelines to prevent the spread of Ebola and believe there’s little risk on campus.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released recommendations more than a week ago on how to prevent the virus from spreading in colleges. They include identifying people who have been in countries where Ebola outbreaks have occurred, conducting a risk assessment and giving each person instructions for health monitoring.

Four students at Washington State University and three at Whitworth University traveled to campus from Nigeria and are enrolled in classes. None are experiencing any symptoms of the deadly virus. The federal agency has counted 21 cases of Ebola in Nigeria.

“We believe our situation to be relatively low-risk with regard to the spread of Ebola,” Bruce Wright, executive director of health and wellness services at WSU, said in an email.

Wright said a risk assessment showed that the four students enrolled at the Pullman campus do not meet criteria for any level of risk as defined by the CDC. Nevertheless, the students have all been given instructions to monitor their health for 21 days and were told to limit contact with others during that period, he said.

Marie Whalen, assistant director of international admissions at Whitworth, said the students coming from Nigeria have been in Spokane for two weeks and have also not experienced symptoms. The CDC says the majority of Ebola cases developed symptoms within 10 days of exposure, though symptoms may appear as late as 21 days after exposure.

“We are not worried and the students shouldn’t be either,” Whalen said.

Wright said WSU doesn’t have study-abroad programs in any of the countries where the outbreak has occurred.

He and other school officials, however, said universities don’t track students’ non-school-related travel. Joe Kinsella, assistant academic vice president and director of Gonzaga’s center for global engagement, said the university knows of no students who have traveled to the affected African countries, but said it does not monitor people’s vacations.

Eastern Washington University has three enrolled students from West African nations, but not from the countries where the outbreak has occurred, said Dave Meany, director of media relations. EWU added a Web page dedicated to Ebola information to the school’s website.

The CDC has counted 3,707 cases of Ebola overall, the majority of which are in Guinea, Liberia or Sierra Leone. Nearly 1,850 have died from the virus. Symptoms of Ebola include a fever, diarrhea, vomiting and muscle pain.

The CDC says the outbreak does not pose a significant risk to the United States.

“We’ve had a lot of international students in the United States, and I think it’s really important to separate facts from hysteria,” Whalen said.