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Dallas Schools Respond to Students' Possible Ebola Exposure

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Four schools in Dallas will complete a "thorough cleaning" after authorities determined that five students who attend those schools may have had contact with an Ebola patient over the weekend, the New York Times reported. The schools include a high school, a middle school, and two elementary schools. They will remain open, and the cleaning is just a precaution, officials told the Times.

The students are among 12 to 18 people who may have had contact with Liberian national Thomas Duncan, who was confirmed Tuesday as the first patient to test positive for Ebola within the United States, while he was demonstrating symptoms of the illness.

Although Ebola is grabbing headlines for its rapid spread through parts of Africa, efforts to contain the illness mimic many public health plans that will no doubt be familiar to school health officials who've dealt with other conditions: Track down those who may have been affected, monitor their health, and take precautionary measures. From the Times:

"Health officials on Wednesday continued to track down other people who might have been exposed to Mr. Duncan after he began showing symptoms, on Sept. 24, and will monitor them every day for 21 days—the full incubation period of the disease. Most people develop symptoms within eight to 10 days. As a patient becomes sicker and the virus replicates in the body, the likelihood of the disease spreading grows."

The situation, which exploded in the media yesterday, has the potential to challenge many sectors of a busy school district—including student support staff, communications, and janitorial services.

The Dallas district outlined its response plans Wednesday on a section of its website it created especially to address the potential Ebola exposure. The district also created an information hotline and posted a fact sheet from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention about the illness.

"The impacted students are currently not showing any symptoms and are under close observation by the Dallas County Health and Human Services Department," the district's website said. "As a precautionary measure, the students have been advised to stay home from school. Since the students are not presenting any symptoms, there is nothing to suggest that the disease was spread to others including students and staff. It is also important to know that individuals are not contagious until symptoms appear. Because of this, there is no imminent danger to children."

Among other actions listed on its website, the district has:

  • Updated its board of trustees on the situation;
  • Sent letters translated in seven different languages home to parents of students in the four impacted schools;
  • Sent communications staff to the four schools to help with media attention;
  • Sent psychological services and family engagement staff to the four schools to assist students, staff, and families,and 
  • Determined which buses the potentially exposed students took so those vehicles can receive an additional cleaning.
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