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Ebola, the flu and schools

In fall and winter, schools are normally busy sharing information about colds and flu. This season, however, the New York State Department of Health (DOH) has asked that schools help share information about Ebola.

“Exceedingly small” likelihood of Ebola occurring in schools

To date, only four people in the United States have tested positive for Ebola in the last six months out of the thousands who have traveled to Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, where the outbreak began. The DOH is monitoring the case of a physician in New York City who traveled to the area on a humanitarian trip. According to the DOH and SED, however, “The likelihood of a student with symptoms of Ebola presenting in a school in New York is exceedingly small.” In an abundance of caution, though, districts across the state are being proactive and sharing tips on how to help prevent the spread of illnesses, as well as facts about Ebola.

Facts about Ebola

Ebola is a rare disease found mostly in African countries. The first Ebola species was identified in 1976, and the disease has occurred sporadically in Africa since that time. Here are other facts you should note about the disease:

    • Ebola is ONLY spread through direct contact with the blood or bodily fluids of a person who is sick and is exhibiting symptoms or through touching such contaminated objects as needles and syringes.
    • Ebola does NOT spread through casual contact.
    • Ebola is NOT spread through the air and doesn’t appear to stick to surfaces.
    • Ebola is NOT spread through water or through food grown or legally purchased in the United States.
    • Ebola patients cannot infect other people before they show signs of the illness.
    • Health care workers and family/friends of an infected person are at highest risk of being exposed to the Ebola virus.
    • Symptoms can appear between two and 21 days after exposure.

Many Ebola symptoms similar to those of other illnesses

Although the symptoms of Ebola are similar to those of colds and flu, it’s important to keep in mind that the chances of getting Ebola are extremely low (unless a person has traveled to or had contact with a person from an affected area). Ebola symptoms include fever (greater than 101.5◦F or 38.6◦C), severe headache, muscle pain, weakness, diarrhea, vomiting, abdominal pain and unexplained bleeding or bruising. while also acting to prevent more common illnesses.

Focus the fight on colds and flu

Although Ebola is dangerous and we need to be prepared in the unlikely event the disease turns up in the Mohawk Valley, Central Valley school nurses ask families to focus on the greater problem of colds and flu. Each year, a high percentage of our students miss important class time because of these preventable diseases. Learn more from our Flu Facts for Parents (PDF), which outlines flu symptoms and prevention tips. Limiting the spread of viral diseases such as the flu and Ebola is simple:

    • Wash your hands often with soap and water. If soap and water are not available, use hand sanitizers.
    • Cover your cough. Use a tissue to cover your nose and mouth when coughing or sneezing; throw the tissue away after using it.
    • Avoid close contact with people who have colds or the flu.
    • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth (germs spread this way).
    • Clean and disinfect commonly touched surfaces, such as doorknobs, faucet handles and toys.
    • Keep children home if they have a fever, vomiting or diarrhea.

Central Valley’s health staff are staying informed through continued contact with local and state health agencies. These agencies have provided some recommendations to school health offices, such as reviewing infection control practices, maintaining proper procedures when interacting with ill students and ensuring adequate supplies of personal protective equipment (e.g., gloves). It is expected that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and state and local health agencies will issue additional guidance specific to school districts if necessary.

Additional resources

Some content courtesy of Capital Region BOCES School Communications Portfolio; Copyright 2014; All rights reserved. For more information or permission to use, call 518-464-3960.