CMU ‘smart’ in its prep for Ebola

Carnegie Mellon has protocols in place in the unlikely event that a case of Ebola is identified on campus, according to Director of University Health Services (UHS) Anita Barkin. On Wednesday, Barkin emailed the campus community to provide updates about actions the university is taking against Ebola.

In the email, Barkin said that the university is working with local health care agencies, which primarily include the Allegheny County Health Department and UPMC Emergency Medicine, and is following guidelines provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to prevent the spread of Ebola should a case appear. Health Services has also been in conversation with the University of Pittsburgh Student Health Service.

Barkin said that the university has not had to screen any members of the campus community thus far. Additionally, the university has not received any calls from campus community members returning from affected areas such as Liberia, Guinea, or Sierra Leone, although the university has received calls from individuals asking about precautions prior to travelling to places not in West Africa.

“One of the questions I ask ... international travelers is whether they’ve gotten a flu shot,” Barkin said. “Because your chances of getting the flu are a lot greater than coming into contact with Ebola, and more people die of the flu every year than of Ebola.”

The university also has an Emergency Response Plan with a planning team that reviews and updates the plan. This team includes members from across various campus bodies, such as members of Student Affairs, Facilities Management Services, University Police, and Environmental Health and Safety, among others. In light of the Ebola outbreak, the team revised the emergency protocol for responding to infectious diseases. Barkin said that Linda Gentile, the director of the Office of International Education at Carnegie Mellon, was involved in discussion related to Ebola. Michael Murphy, the vice president of campus affairs, leads the emergency planning team as the Executive Policy representative.

CMU EMS and University Police are trained to screen students in the case that they must respond to a possible case of Ebola, according to Barkin. They are trained to first ask “Do you have a fever?” and, if given a response of “yes,” they ask “Have you traveled to West Africa or been exposed to anyone who has traveled to West Africa and is ill?” If given another response of “yes,” the members summon the 9-1-1 dispatcher.

University staff were trained by Environmental Health and Safety on how to correctly use personal protective equipment, consisting of a waterproof gown, foot coverings, gloves, and a face shield, according to Barkin. The university secured equipment for health services, as well as CMU EMS in the “very unusual circumstance where they would be in a situation where they would need [the equipment],” Barkin said.

Nurses and clinical staff at the university were trained to triage Ebola cases and secure a space where a suspected case is treated, and to disinfect that space before resuming public use.

“The chances of our having to deal with that situation are pretty low,” Barkin said of the possibility of an Ebola case at Carnegie Mellon. “Here [at] Carnegie Mellon we’ve been really smart about this. We were on it in August, already thinking about this before students arrived.”

The recent email update to the campus community states that members are expected to call UHS before returning to campus after visiting places affected by the virus. Members are then expected to monitor themselves for up to 21 days after their return.

Barkin first emailed the campus community about the university’s response to Ebola on Aug. 8, after two U.S. citizens were transferred from Liberia to Atlanta’s Emory University Hospital earlier in the month. The ninth person to be treated for Ebola in the United States was diagosed on Oct. 23 in New York City when doctor Craig Spencer reported symptoms a week after returning from Guinea.

The virus, which was first discovered in 1976, is known to only spread through direct contact with blood or bodily fluids of individuals already exhibiting symptoms.