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Western Pennsylvania colleges cautious about Ebola risk from students

| Saturday, Aug. 30, 2014, 7:46 p.m.

Colleges and universities here say they took their cues from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Allegheny County Health Department regarding students returning to campus this fall who are from or who had traveled through West African nations afflicted with the deadly Ebola virus.

College websites that identify the countries of origin of international students suggest that fewer than two dozen students in the region come from the affected countries. Although University of Pittsburgh officials stopped short of conducting screenings, they advised those from affected areas of Africa to be alert for symptoms of the virus.

“No students have exhibited any symptoms,” Pitt spokesman Ken Service said.

At Carnegie Mellon University and Penn State, health services officials said they took extra steps to monitor information about the virus and put out advisories.

Ebola has claimed the lives of 1,500 people in Liberia, Guinea, Sierra Leone and Nigeria since the latest outbreak began this year. Symptoms of the virus, which is spread through direct contact with the bodily fluids of infected individuals, can include fever, headache, joint and muscle aches, weakness, diarrhea, vomiting, stomach pain, lack of appetite and abnormal bleeding and occur two to 21 days after exposure.

With the exception of two U.S. aid workers who contracted the disease in Western Africa and recovered at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta, there have been no cases in the United States.

Public health experts at the CDC said the disease does not pose “a significant risk to the U.S. public.”

Although she concurs with that assessment, Allegheny County Health Department Director Dr. Karen Hacker said her office conducted two webinars about the virus last week for the region's universities and health care providers.

“We were getting some calls about it and thought it would be better to be proactive. It's been in the news so much, and that ramps up concerns,” Hacker said.

Debra Erdley is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-320-7996 or derdley@tribweb.com.

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