Ebola panel discussion to address community concerns

Dr. Kathryn Ganski, dean of the Eleanor Wade Custer School of Nursing at Shenandoah University, talks on Monday about the Ebola panel discussion planned for 7 p.m. today in Halpin-Harrison Hall's Stimpson Auditorium. Josette Keelor

WINCHESTER — A panel discussion at 7 p.m. today at Shenandoah University will address the Ebola virus and answer the community’s questions on the threat it still presents to Americans and how residents can protect themselves.

The discussion will be in the Stimpson Auditorium of Halpin-Harrison Hall, where area health professionals wish to quell fears while being realistic about how to prevent the spread of disease.

“I think it’s very timely,” said Dr. Tim Ford, dean of the School of Health Professions at Shenandoah University.

Ford and other panelists agreed Monday that many fears the public has felt concerning the Ebola outbreak has been caused by a lack of appropriate information.

In the United States, there have been 10 cases of patients treated for Ebola, according to Dr. Charles Devine III, health director of the Lord Fairfax Health District, a part of the Virginia Department of Health. Two of them died from the disease, and both were infected before arriving in the country.

No one in Virginia has been diagnosed with Ebola, though he said between 70 and 80 residents are currently within the 21-day observation time to see if they will develop symptoms of Ebola. Without symptoms, they are not contagious and cannot spread the disease. If they remain symptom-free for 21 days, they will be cleared of having Ebola.

No current Shenandoah students have been to affected western Africa nations since the first known case of the recent Ebola outbreak in December 2013.

But the university welcomes a diverse student body and sponsors visits and study-aboard programs for students to other parts of the world, so panel members especially wanted to reassure students that the school is prepared in case they do encounter anyone from affected western African nations.

Through a longstanding relationship with the health district and area hospitals, administrators have taken steps to keep students and the rest of the community safe.

But this is nothing new, according to Ron Stickley, director of Health Services at the school. In previous years the school has had to prepare for outbreaks of the SARS and the H1N1 virus, also known as swine flu.

“It’s just the unknown, the fears, I think is the biggest problem we have out there,” Stickley said.

Ebola is particularly scary because of its potential to kill, Ford said. So far in western Africa, it has claimed about 7,000 lives, and though as a comparison he pointed out influenza claims up to 50,000 American lives every year, the risk to Americans is real.

“This is not going to be the last epidemic or pandemic, diseases are going to emerge,” Ford said. “Whether it comes out of Africa or China … or South America, it’s going to happen again.”

As Devine put it, “every illness in the world is just a plane ride away.”

That’s why everyone should better understand Ebola and how to prevent against it.

Calling the panel a great idea, Dr. Kathryn Ganske, dean of the Eleanor Wade Custer School of Nursing, said she hopes the whole community will become involved in becoming better informed.

“There’s a sense of complacency within our borders that this kind of thing can’t happen,” she said. “Well, guess what?”

Contact staff writer Josette Keelor at 540-465-5137 ext. 176, or jkeelor@nvdaily.com