For parents and guardians of the more than one million children from birth to age five who receive comprehensive services each day through Head Start and Early Head Start programs, as well as for Head Start program staff members, the recent reports of patients with Ebola Virus Disease in the United States can be understandably concerning. Head Start and Early Head Start programs are encouraged to use this fact sheet to answer questions staff may have and support staff, children, and families.
Ebola is a serious illness caused by the Ebola virus. Ebola symptoms include fever, severe headache, muscle pain, vomiting, diarrhea, stomach pain, and/or unexplained bleeding or bruising. Symptoms may appear anywhere from 2 to 21 days after exposure, although 8 to 10 days is most common.
Ebola virus is spread through direct contact with the blood or body fluids (including but not limited to feces, saliva, sweat, urine, vomit, breast milk, and semen) of a person who is sick with Ebola. The virus in blood and body fluids can enter another person’s body through broken skin or through the eyes, nose, or mouth.
Health workers and the family and friends in close contact with Ebola patients are at highest risk because they may come in contact with the blood or body fluids of sick patients, for example, by changing sheets after an ill person has vomited.
Children are at greater risk from seasonal influenza (flu) than they are from the Ebola virus.
Prevention: Head Start and Early Head Start teachers and staff should continue to use good infection control practices. The same steps that prevent the spread of many other diseases help to prevent Ebola transmission.
Support Program Staff: In the unlikely case that a Head Start or Early Head Start employee has contact with an Ebola patient, these employees may be asked by public health authorities to remain at home for up to 21 days. Programs should review their Continuity of Operations Plans and staffing plans to ensure adequate coverage, if needed.
Reduce Stigma: Stigma can occur when people associate an infectious disease with a population, even though not everyone in that population or from that region is specifically at risk for the disease. Children and families that have connections to West Africa may experience stigma from their communities. This stigma may also extend to individuals that have recently traveled to West Africa and/or to individuals that have had contact with an Ebola patient, or who live in an apartment building or neighborhood where Ebola cases have occurred.
Head Start programs should stress that Ebola is caused by a virus – not a person – and that the virus is difficult to transmit (i.e., it is not airborne). They should also be cautious of the images and messages that they share in order to avoid reinforcing negative stereotypes.
Head Start programs that serve families with ties to West Africa can be helpful as a source of support and community connection. All people who have traveled to an affected country or may have had exposure to an Ebola patient should be undergoing monitoring with support of their local public health department. Head Start programs can support families undergoing monitoring and encourage them to call the local health department if they begin showing any symptoms, such as an elevated fever.
In the unlikely case that a child or staff member is asked by public health authorities to remain at home, programs should stress that if individuals do not develop Ebola symptoms during the 21-day monitoring period, they do not have Ebola and pose no risk when they return afterwards.
Reduce Children’s Fears: Even young children may be exposed to media reports or overhear adults discussing Ebola. These steps may help Head Start staff support children’s coping with Ebola-related fears:
Program staff and parents may feel stress or worry associated with Ebola, especially if there are cases identified in their communities. Immediate crisis counseling to people concerned about Ebola virus reports is available through the Disaster Distress Helpline (1-800-985-5990). The helpline can also be accessed at http://disasterdistress.samhsa.gov/ and TTY for Deaf individuals: 1-800-846-8517. Tips on Coping with Stress during Infectious Disease Outbreaks are also available online.