Five Colleges consortium issues statement discouraging travel to areas affected by Ebola

Wednesday, November 25, 2015
NORTHAMPTON — Although the Ebola outbreak in West Africa is said to pose no immediate threat in the Valley, area colleges are taking extra precautions by educating the public.

The Five Colleges — University of Massachusetts at Amherst, Smith College, Amherst College, Mount Holyoke College, and Hampshire College — jointly issued a statement this week that includes facts on the disease, its symptoms and ways it is transmitted, and also discourages travel to countries that have been affected.

Ebola, according to the information sheet issued by the colleges, is an often-fatal disease discovered in 1976 near the Ebola River in the Democratic Republic of Congo. It is transmitted to people from wild animals, and is spread among humans “through direct contact, as when broken skin or mucous membranes come into contact with blood, bodily secretions, or needles contaminated with infected bodily fluids,” according to the statement. It is not transmitted through air, food or water.

Last Friday, the World Health Organization declared the Ebola virus an international public health emergency. According to the website for the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, it reported as of Saturday a total of 1,848 suspect and confirmed cases of Ebola, and 1,013 deaths in Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia and Nigeria.

According to the statement from the Five Colleges, all students who were in study abroad programs in those countries have returned to the United States and “do not meet the criteria for potential suspected cases.” No students or staff at these institutions were scheduled to travel to the affected areas this fall, according to representatives of the colleges.

UMass spokesman Daniel Fitzgibbons said that George Corey, executive director of the University Health Services, will meet with his staff in the next couple of days in preparation for handling questions about the disease.

“I don’t think it’s out of concern that Ebola’s going to affect us,” Fitzgibbons said, but when there is a serious disease like Ebola in the news, it’s “better to share more information than not at all.”

He recalls the precautions taken during last year when the Eastern equine encephalitis virus became a known risk.

“This is a little more removed,” Fitzgibbons said of the response to the Ebola outbreak. “But it’s still better to make people know what the symptoms are and what the possibilities are for them of contracting it.”

Symptoms of Ebola, including fever, malaise and diarrhea, usually occur within eight to 10 days after exposure, according to the Five Colleges information sheet.

The statement advises anyone who is experiencing symptoms of any infectious illness to delay returning to campus until they have recovered and are no longer contagious, and advises anyone with fever, vomiting or diarrhea to immediately consult with health staff at their campus.

The entire statement is available on the Smith College website at www.smith.edu/health/news.php.

Gena Mangiaratti can be reached at gmangiaratti@gazettenet.com.