When an LSU employee returned to Baton Rouge on Tuesday after training Liberian police officers on Ebola safety procedures, he was asked by the university to stay home for at least the recommended three weeks.
“We’re very confident our team was not exposed,” said Jason Krause, associate director of operations and plans with the National Center for Biomedical Research and Training at LSU. Krause said he is not under an official quarantine but will limit his travel to help minimize any public concern.
Krause was part of a five-member team who trained 1,275 Liberian police on Ebola basics and on safety equipment they may be called on to use.
“The main message to stress for everyone is that it’s vitally important to solve this issue at the source,” Krause said.
Krause, who is healthy and at home, said the police’s mission is not to interact directly with patients but, instead, to provide security to medical teams as they do their work.
“The overall mission was to give them knowledge to protect themselves,” he said.
The university’s request comes at a time of heightened national awareness of the disease following the death of a patient in Dallas and resulting infection of two health care workers who helped treat him. However, the request to stay away from LSU could hamper the center’s ability to assist West African countries as they work to bring the Ebola outbreak under control.
Two more trips are scheduled under a contract for training with other West African countries, but finding instructors could be difficult, particularly when the instructors would have to stay away from work for three weeks upon their return, said Jim Fernandez, executive director of the Stephenson National Center for Security Research and Training.
“If we tell them, ‘You can’t do something for three more weeks,’ that’s hard,” he said.
None of the team members from the recent trip has reported any symptoms and the work to help stop the disease at the source is needed, Fernandez said.
“This is very important work. We know what we’re doing. We’re experts in the field,” he said. “There is no risk to the people of Baton Rouge or Louisiana.”
This is the first time since the center has been doing training programs around the world that a team member has been asked to stay away from campus for three weeks because of concern about a disease, he said.
“We’ve been doing these programs since 1991, and we’re not putting our people in harm’s way,” Fernandez said. “But someone has to do these programs, and that’s what we do.”
Liberia and several West African countries have been struggling for months, with international help, to combat an outbreak of the potentially deadly Ebola virus.
The Liberia national police is the only police force in the country, and if its officers are afraid, uninformed or become ill, there is a real chance the country could destabilize, Krause said. A further destabilizing of the country would only make the task of controlling the outbreak more difficult, raising the risk to other countries, including the United States.
Of the 4,500 police officers in the Liberian force, there have been five officers lost to Ebola, with four of those cases linked to home exposure and not from work, Krause said. That led to concerns being expressed by other officers, which is why the training was conducted.
Participants in the training program had their temperature taken before entering the classroom, there was no close contact between the trainers and the officers, and the trainers had no contact with anyone who had symptoms of the disease, Krause said. Ebola is contagious only after symptoms of the disease, like fever, arise.
“DHH staff has interviewed (Krause). He did not have contact with any individuals infected with Ebola and nor is he at risk for Ebola,” said Olivia Watkins, director of communications with the state Department of Health and Hospitals. “In talking with him, we confirmed that he understands the signs and symptoms and knows what to watch for. Our staff will be doing incremental symptom checks with him out of an abundance of caution.”
There are about 60 students within the LSU system, 50 of them in Baton Rouge, who are from Ebola-impacted West African countries, said Ernie Ballard, with LSU media relations.
The LSU health center has tracked those students to check on their status and found that a lot of the students just didn’t go home over the summer, he said. Now that students are midway through the semester, travel home is very unlikely.
Follow Amy Wold on Twitter, @awold10.