Universities around the country are on high alert following the spread of contagious diseases such as meningitis and the Ebola virus.
The Ebola virus has decimated parts of West Africa and is starting to concern more Americans following the recent death of Thomas Duncan, a Liberian man who came to the United States with Ebola and was treated in Dallas, Texas. Two nurses caring for Duncan contracted the disease.
Last week, a San Diego State University freshman died of meningitis Type B, the same strain that was found in outbreaks at Princeton University and UC Santa Barbara last year.
Though there is no threat to the USC campus at this time, school officials say they are prepared should a meningitis case be reported.
“In the event that a USC student, staff or visitor is diagnosed with meningococcal meningitis, Student Health Services and other university departments will collaborate with L.A. County Public Health Department to identify persons who were likely contacts of the ill person, to offer disease education, safety recommendations and prophylactic medication or vaccine as appropriate,” said Dr. James Jacobs, medical director of the Engemann Student Health Center, in an email to the Daily Trojan.
The two most prevalent forms of meningitis include bacterial and viral, both of which are treatable if caught early. Symptoms, however, are similar to the flu and might be ignored by patients for long periods of time. If left untreated, bacterial meningitis can cause death within mere days.
USC collaborates extensively with the L.A. County Public Health Department and Keck Medical Center in various health and wellness promotion efforts to limit the spread of contagious diseases on campus.
Incoming students are required to complete a meningitis questionnaire via email, which highly recommends students, especially those living in dorms, to get the vaccination prior to the start of the semester. The vaccination, however, only protects against four different forms of meningitis, and doesn’t prevent type B, which was the cause of death of the San Diego State University freshman.
Though no known cases of Ebola have been reported in the state of California, the recent influx of reported cases has caused the Centers for Disease Control to post a Level 3 travel notice to all colleges and universities. They are recommending that students and faculty avoid non-essential travel to Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone. Universities such as Cornell, New York University and Harvard are also implementing travel restrictions to these countries as well.
At this time, USC has no travel bans in place to any such countries, which concerns senior history major Jennifer Massey.
“USC has more international students than Harvard does,” she said. “In fact, we have more than any other university in the country. I believe USC should take advice from Harvard on this topic.”
Though USC lacks such a travel ban, Bill Regensburger, director of Fire Safety & Emergency Planning, said that the university is well prepared for potential hazardous diseases.
“The university has a well-developed emergency response plan for any hazard, and we are making preparations currently for the possibility that the current Ebola virus reaches L.A. or even USC,” Regensburger said in an email to the Daily Trojan.
Though the Ebola virus is not expected to come to California, hospitals throughout the state say they are taking the necessary precautions with Ebola virus training and informing staff about ways to prevent the spread of the disease should they treat a patient.
“The Engemann Health Center and USC Keck Hospital have both made extensive preparations for the contingency that a traveler from the affected regions of West Africa with or without symptoms turns up at their facilities,” said Dr. Stephanie Hall, chief medical officer for Keck Medicine of USC, which includes oversight of Keck Hospital and the USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Hospital, in a statement to the Daily Trojan.
She said that patients would then be transported to a hospital designated for potential Ebola patients.
“I believe that their role is to screen for such patients, use Tier I PPE [Personal Protective Equipment] and to isolate them temporarily until they can be transported to a designated Ebola receiving facility prepared to test and treat an Ebola patient. The CDPH [California Department of Public Health] in collaboration with the California Hospital Association are working to finalize which hospitals throughout the state are designated as Ebola receiving facilities based on current CDC guidelines,” she said in the statement.
Last week, the CDPH announced that the University of California’s five medical centers would be used as priority treatment centers for cases of Ebola in the state.