October 23, 2014
Communications and Marketing
The Ebola epidemic in West Africa is a concern for travelers, health care workers, and others. On campus and further afield, members of the Saint Anselm College community are dealing with the issues and concerns it brings to their work and their lives.
Maura Marshall, director of college health services, says her staff is prepared as they always are when there is a potential pandemic. Previously, they geared up for the H1N1 in 2009 and the avian flu virus, neither of which developed into a crisis. They have met with health officials, EMTs, and hospital administrators in Manchester, inventoried personal protective gear, and updated training.
"We are definitely more aware of screening students who have a history of recent travel or high-risk contacts, especially if they have a fever," she says. However, she does not know of any students who are traveling to the high risk areas. "Our students do work in the community with the refugee population, but the Health Department assures us that the refugees are thoroughly screened and are isolated for a period of time prior to being joined with the community."
Many alumni work in the area of infectious disease prevention and treatment, including Ashley (Fielding) Conley '06, the epidemiologist for Nashua, N.H., and Susan (Gagnon) Myers '83, a provider relations manager with the Bureau of Infectious Disease Control, Division of Public Health Services, New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services.
Although there is an extremely small risk to the general public of an uncontrolled, continued Ebola outbreak, Conley says, "It is possible for us to see additional Ebola cases in the U.S. We need to help the countries in West Africa put an end to the outbreak so there can be zero risk of additional cases globally."
Dr. Jules Duval '86, senior medical officer for the health department of the World Bank, oversees the health of 10,000 employees who are constantly on the move internationally. His focus during this epidemic is to provide updated information on a regular basis so that these professionals are comfortable doing their jobs.
"We work to dispel misconceptions but at the same time are very frank about what people should be concerned about and what to do if there is a legitimate potential for risk. We are constantly monitoring the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) postings and updates and we adhere very closely to statements by the CDC to ensure consistent messaging," he says.
Monique Petrofsky '83, a nurse epidemiologist who works with the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), comments, "The epidemic serves as a sobering reminder that infectious diseases are only a plane ride away, that we are a global community, so everything we do to improve the health of communities in faraway lands, affects our wellbeing also."
Her view is similar to that of Dr. F. Marc LaForce '60, whose global health work recently earned him the 2015 Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter Humanitarian Award from the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases. Commenting on the situation in an interview with the Union Leader, just weeks before the first laboratory-confirmed case was diagnosed in the United States, he said, "The world is getting much smaller than it was when I started doing this work. What goes on in Africa sooner or later will impact here, what happens in Europe, and what happens in Asia."
Chih-Chien Huang, assistant professor of sociology, specializes in medical sociology and population health. Considering the issue from a society perspective, she says, "Media portrayals of the Ebola epidemic in West Africa have stereotyped Africans as ignorant, superstitious and lacking knowledge. Are these 'others' who are dying from Ebola different from 'us?' From SARS, Swine Flu, AIDS, Marburg, Avian Flu to Ebola, we have learned that there is no border for infectious diseases and it can be better controlled and managed if we identify the strengths of our public health system in advance of future epidemic."
For the Saint Anselm College community, health services director Maura Marshall says that flu season is a more immediate concern: she reminds people to wash their hands, eat well, limit stress, and get a flu shot.