Campus prepares in event of an Ebola virus case at U-M


Following months of evaluation and preventative measures, the university is prepared to deal with the Ebola virus should it arise within the campus community or U-M Health System.

Precautionary efforts on campus include additional outreach to the very few students from the affected countries, supplemental screening of University Health Services patients with symptoms consistent with the virus, and an institutional advisory against travel to the affected areas.

“We are behaving in a way to maximize preparedness, minimize risk and not alarm people unnecessarily,” said Dr. Robert Winfield, chief health officer and director of UHS.  “The risk in Michigan at this time, even in light of international travel and the cases identified in Texas, remains very remote.”

UMHS is working closely with public health authorities to refine processes and provide training to prepare for possible Ebola patients. Faculty and staff at University Hospital and C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital participated in practice exercises last week involving both adult and pediatric emergency departments.

The United States has seen a small number of Ebola cases in recent weeks affecting U. S. citizens and one Liberian citizen. Most contracted the disease while in West Africa and were diagnosed there before returning to the U.S. for treatment.  In addition, two health care workers in Texas contracted Ebola after caring for an Ebola patient who died in the hospital where they worked. 

There are no instances of the illness in the state of Michigan or the Midwest at this time and no reports of the virus in the university community.

“The only way to get Ebola is from direct contact with blood or bodily fluids from a person who is sick with Ebola. Ebola is not spread through the air or water,” said Dr. Darrell (Skip) Campbell, UMHS chief medical officer.

Preparation for the possibility of an Ebola outbreak on campus started in August as university officials began to assess areas most vulnerable to the spread of the virus, including the arrival of international students and scholars from the countries affected by the outbreak, international travel to and near the affected countries, and patients at local health facilities.

The university has issued travel warnings, consistent with the U.S. State Department’s advice, for the countries where Ebola remains a significant concern:  Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. There were contained outbreaks in Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of Congo that are no longer a concern.

The International Center identified registered international students with citizenship in the countries affected by Ebola, and reached out to them upon their arrival on campus in August.

“The International Center immediately reached out to the identified students to establish their risk level, to advise them of symptoms to be on alert for, and to advise them what to do if they did experience any symptoms. All of these students have now been in the U.S. for more than 21 days without symptoms, which is equivalent to the incubation period of the virus, establishing that they are at no risk,” said Louise Baldwin, senior associate director of the International Center.

There are no upcoming education abroad programs scheduled for any of the countries affect by Ebola. Travelers from the African continent entering the U.S. for education opportunities will continue to be monitored.

UHS added a layer of screening, by phone and in person, for individuals who have traveled abroad and report symptoms including fever, and respiratory and gastro-intestinal symptoms.

The university also is educating the community on Ebola in several ways:

• Through a series of video messages featuring U-M epidemiology experts exploring the virus in detail produced by the School of Public Health.

• Through an informative Q&A with physician-medical historian Dr. Howard Markel on the recent outbreak situation, as well as an informative list of frequently asked questions on the virus. Both were developed by UMHS.

• Through campus events, including a roundtable, Beyond Ebola, scheduled for 4-5:30 p.m. Wednesday in Room 1636, School of Social Work Building, hosted by the International Institute.


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