Alumnus returns to U.S. from Guinea days before Ebola outbreak closes borders
The Ebola virus outbreak's effect on the Duke community has been minimal—University travel restrictions have enacted as a precaution, though no students, faculty or staff are said to be present in the afflicted countries. For one young alumnus, however, the outbreak hit close to home.
Shreyan Sen, Trinity '12, spent the past two years in Guinea as a member of the Peace Corps. He returned home to Raleigh a few weeks ago, just days before all Peace Corps volunteers in the region were evacuated and Guinea closed its borders as a result of the outbreak.
The outbreak was concerning, but it did not have a great effect on everyday life in Guinea, Sen said.
"Very early on, it was sort of a little scary and unknown," Sen said. "Once we were informed and knew what it was and where it was and what we could do to avoid it, people just went on with their normal lives."
The outbreak began Guinea in March and has been reported to have claimed more than 1,000 lives so far—a number that the World Health Organization has said could be "vastly underestimated." The disease is spread human-to-human—typically through direct contact with bodily fluids of an infected person, or with the body of a deceased victim of the disease.
Because the disease can only be spread through such direct contact, chances of getting sick as a Peace Corps volunteer were low, Sen said.
Sen compared the attitude toward the outbreak to the United States' reaction to the swine flu virus in 2009. There was an increased emphasis on basic sanitation, such as hand washing, and some people chose to wear surgical masks, Sen said. Apart from that, however, there were no dramatic changes to everyday life.
"We never thought about it on a day-to-day basis," Sen said.
Duke's International Travel Oversight Committee has placed full country restrictions on travel to Liberia and Guinea. Travel restrictions already in place for Sierra Leone for security reasons will continue. Duke has not placed restrictions on Nigeria, which has confirmed between 10 and 20 cases of the disease.
There are no University faculty, staff or students currently visiting Guinea, Liberia or Sierra Leone, according to a Duke News release, and no incoming students from these countries will be attending Duke this Fall. The University does not maintain any regular programming—such as DukeEngage or study-abroad programs—in any of the infected countries.
“This is being done in light of the Ebola outbreak heavily affecting these countries and is in line with [Center of Disease Control] recommendations to avoid non-essential travel to these countries,” said Dr. Eric Ossmann, director of the Duke Preparedness and Response Center, in the release.
University administrators have announced that any member of the Duke community who has traveled to Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia or Nigeria in the past three weeks should consult with Student Health or Employee Occupational Health and Wellness before returning to campus.