As Ebola is spreading across the globe, some might wonder what would happen to Cedarville students if dealing with an infectious disease on campus.
“We really are going to have to be more aware of our health and just staying healthy because we have a very global society and whatever is happening somewhere else, eventually is going to come here,” said Deb McDonald, director of University Medical Services (UMS).
To protect students, staff, faculty and the community, Cedarville has developed an infectious disease outbreak response plan to deal with cases on campus and the nearby area.
McDonald said the university has a team of people from UMS, the public relations department, campus safety, residence life and a professor who work together to deal with any illness-related issues.
“We’re here to serve the academic department,” she said. “We’re all here so we can keep the students well. This is our ministry.”
This team met recently to discuss the Ebola outbreak in West Africa and educate themselves about the disease, McDonald said. Ebola is transmitted through bodily fluids, much like HIV and HBV, she said, and there is not much chance of it directly threatening the campus.
Indirectly, however, she said, there are several ways of bringing a disease to campus, and the team has to be aware of each one.
“Any of us could get an infectious disease anywhere,” she said, “so we need to be mindful of our surroundings, where we’re going and then, if we’re sick, definitely don’t share.”
Cedarville has students going to and from several different countries throughout the world, exposing themselves to possible illnesses and potentially bringing them back to campus during the school year. McDonald said there is traffic from admissions, global outreach projects, stateside ministry teams like HeartSong, academic programs such as clinicals, travel during breaks and studying abroad.
The administration must be aware of all of these, McDonald said, sometimes having to make tough decisions.
“We have to be particular about where we send our teams,” she said. “We want to help, we want to minister, we want to share the Gospel, but we also want to be wise about that and protect our students and our teams.”
Doug Chisholm, director of Campus Safety, said students who might have an infectious disease would be sent to the hospital for evaluation. If serious enough, the student would remain in isolation at the hospital for treatment. If allowed to leave the hospital, the student would be placed in isolation on campus, either in an empty residence director’s apartment or, if there were several sick students, in a lounge.
“The big thing is really isolation,” he said. “It’s finding out what it is ahead of time, getting the person diagnosed and separated from others and using the isolation techniques.”
If students have a long-term sickness, Chisholm said, he would prefer to send them home. Unfortunately, depending on the travel arrangements, the illness’ severity and how contagious the student is, the Greene County Health Department might not allow the student to travel.
“Depending on if they have to fly, how contagious the disease was,” he said. “There might be concern that you’re taking the disease from here and taking it to another community, another state.”
2009 H1N1 Outbreak
Although it is unlikely that infectious diseases will affect campus, it is not impossible. The response plan was created in May 2009, Chisholm said, and it was put to the test a few months later when several students contracted the H1N1 virus during the fall semester.
When the first student was diagnosed, McDonald said, she was taken to the hospital and then sent back to the university. She was placed in an empty resident director’s dorm to isolate her from other students. The team stays up-to-date with recommendations from the CDC and the Ohio Department of Health, she said, so they can respond appropriately. By the time the other students were diagnosed, she said, they had learned that the CDC was recommending self-isolation within dorm rooms instead of complete quarantines.
“That was honestly, for the campus and for our department especially, that was a great exercise in how we would handle mass illnesses like that,” McDonald said. “A lot of the things we do now are as a result of going through the H1N1 and putting our policies in place.”
The university took other precautions as well, even cancelling chapel for a week based on the recommendation of the Greene County Combined Health District’s Infectious Disease and Epidemiology Unit.
The university’s team met with the Cedarville Fire Department, which would most likely transport patients to the hospital, and the Greene County Health Department once or twice a week during the pandemic. Once it was over, Chisholm said, the health department was so impressed, they asked if they could use Cedarville’s response plan.
“The health department told us, they said, ‘Wow, is it OK to use you guys as a model on other campuses in Ohio? Because you seem to have it down really good,’ and we said, ‘Sure,’” he said. “So, they learned a lot themselves in just working with our situation over here.”
CU Preparedness Tested Again
The school’s preparedness was also tested when influenza affected several people on campus. Influenza is highly contagious, McDonald said, so UMS created ‘flu kits’ to help contain the virus.
“One of the things we learned is that we really do need to have flu kits,” she said. “I think we’re ready for (an epidemic), but I pray we never have anything like that.” The kits are paper bags that include tissues, hand wipes, a plastic thermometer, masks, medicine and a meal pass, all designed to hold the student over and protect others until they can get their own supplies.
Whenever a student comes down with an infectious disease, McDonald said, they treat not only the student, but those in their close circles. This is especially important, she said, when roommates or friends have predisposed health conditions that increase their chances of becoming ill. These students are contacted and often prescribed preventive medicines to protect them from harm.
Although UMS is equipped to handle most illnesses on campus, McDonald said, some are dangerous enough to require drastic measures. If a student had the measles, for example, they would be required to leave campus until they are no longer a threat to others.
“It’s just for everybody’s safety. It’s not to treat people like they have cooties or anything. We have to put the greater good of everybody (first),” she said. “We’re very aggressive with the health of the community in mind, as well as that person.”
If the threat was severe enough, Chisholm said, they would cancel chapel, classes, sporting events and any large gatherings. Food in the cafeteria would be served by staff members instead of being self-served.
“If it was a large situation, we might have to close down the university and just have emergency essential personnel only,” he said. “It could possibly even come to that kind of situation.”
Chisholm said Ebola in the U.S. does not affect the university much because it is unlikely the disease will come to Ohio.
“I don’t think it changes a whole lot for us at this point,” he said. “Other than just staying abreast of the situation.”
Despite this unlikelihood, McDonald said the school is prepared to battle diseases both on campus and in the community.
The school has agreed with the Ohio Department of Health to serve as a closed Point of Distribution (POD). This means that, in the event of a disease outbreak in the area, vaccinations will be shipped to the school for distribution.
UMS received a shipment of H1N1 vaccines during the epidemic. Unfortunately, it arrived during Christmas break.
“I have a picture of myself in my coat,” McDonald said. “I put it on Facebook. I said, ‘It’s here! Alas, the students are not because everyone went home.’”
The local fire, EMS and police departments, as well as the local health departments, conducted a drill in April to test the communications system that would inform agencies of a disease outbreak incident and to confirm that they would be able to receive and store any vaccinations. The drill went well, McDonald said, and she thinks the Greene County Health Department was pleased with the outcome.
Additionally, the Doden Field House can be set up to serve as a medical center for the community or, if there are hundreds of sick students, for university residents.
Although there are several ways the university is prepared to fight infectious diseases, McDonald said it is important for students to take their own precautions to protect others from getting sick.
Using alcohol-based sanitizer to kill germs, maintaining a distance from others and having good cough etiquette is important, McDonald said. She also advised students to do their best to maintain good health even before getting sick.
“Personally, take care of yourself,” she said. “Reduce your stress, drink lots of liquids, eat well, so you’re getting some nutrition. Eat right, sleep right, drink lots of water.”
Experts are now recommending a good intake of vitamin D, instead of the oft-recommended vitamin C, to stay healthy, McDonald said, along with multivitamins. Stress can also play a factor in health, she said.
“What we’re trying to do by taking care of ourselves is keeping our immune system strong,” she said. “Stay healthy, because if you’re healthy your immune system’s going to be healthy and if you do get whatever’s going around, it may be a very mild form of that.”
But McDonald said staying educated is most important.
“It’s a well-known fact that people that are more educated tend to do better with their health,” she said. “If we stay educated about health, then we are going to do better.”
Students can read about Cedarville’s student health policies at http://www.cedarville.edu/offices/university-medical-services/student-policies.aspx
Emily Finlay is a senior journalism major and campus news editor for Cedars. She loves writing, reading, making obscure references in normal conversation and every type of geekery.