Beaufort school officials to parents: Don’t be concerned about Ebola exposure

08/14/2014 8:35 PM

08/14/2014 8:37 PM

The Beaufort County School District received several calls Thursday from parents concerned some teachers might have been exposed to the Ebola virus while traveling this summer, but schools officials say there is no cause for alarm.

A statement sent to news media and posted to the school district website Thursday afternoon said no employees “have exhibited Ebola-like symptoms.” It added that a person must be exhibiting symptoms of the virus before they can be infectious to others, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“And parents can rest assured that no district employee who exhibits any signs of infection will be allowed to remain at school,” the statement read.

Also in the message to parents, the district said that “to the best of our knowledge ... the district is not aware of any employees who have visited areas near the locations of Ebola outbreaks.”

However, school board Chairman Bill Evans told The Island Packet and The Beaufort Gazette in a story published Thursday that two or three teachers had recently returned from West Africa, where the biggest Ebola outbreak in history continues its spread.

That story was prompted when superintendent Jeff Moss told Board of Education members after they adjourned a meeting Saturday that at least one teacher was returning from West Africa. Moss raised the question of whether the district would be allowed to ask a teacher in such circumstances to get tested for the virus and told board members it was unclear if any district policy allowed him to do that.

On Wednesday, Moss said federal privacy laws prevented him from confirming that any of his employees had been in Ebola-stricken countries or provide information about the nature of their visits.

However, he described the procedure the district would use if an employee or student was suspected of being exposed to a communicable disease — which includes submitting a physician’s statement and documentation that shows they were cleared through Customs and Border Protection to enter the country. He would not say if the district is currently using that procedure.

The CDC is working with Customs and Border Protection to look for symptoms of Ebola — fever, severe headache, muscle pain, vomiting, diarrhea, or unexplained bleeding — in travelers. Those showing symptoms are further evaluated by staff at quarantine stations, according to the CDC. Those traveling from affected countries but who exhibit no symptoms are advised to self-monitor for 21 days after leaving the countries and seek medical attention if their condition changes.

The virus has a 21-day incubation period after exposure, meaning symptoms can form at any time during that span, according to the CDC. After the 21 days from the last possible exposure pass, the person is no longer at risk for contracting the disease.

Several parents have expressed concern to the district about that period not being complete before the first day of school on Monday, according to district officials. Among them is a nurse, who asked that her name not be used for this article. She said she knows of district employees who traveled to West Africa over the summer.

“I understand they are good people and were doing great things,” the parent said. “However, I, as a nurse, understand the responsibility of protecting those whom we work for and with.”

A blood test can determine if someone has Ebola. The CDC says that if someone thinks they might have been exposed to the virus or begins to show symptoms, they should seek medical attention. Though the center recommends people tell the doctor about their recent travel and symptoms ahead of arrival to help the doctor provide the best care and protect others who may be in the office.

From there, the physician will determine if the person needs further testing or care, and will send them to the appropriate location, according to the CDC.

The S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control is recommending that individuals arriving within 21 days from travel to an outbreak-affected country be screened for any symptoms or exposure risks.

Several board members have said they feel confident that any one who thinks they may have been exposed to the virus would likely choose to get screened or tested on their own.

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