Nursing students visit Ecaudor


This article was written by Diane Witzig, RCTC Nursing Instructor.

On May 15-23 ,12 RCTC nursing students traveled to Guayaquil, Ecuador, for a study-abroad experience in conjunction with Kate Welp of Hands for Humanity, a local non-profit organization.

These students had attended classes at RCTC to prepare them to confront leprosy, help children in orphanages, put on four health fairs for small local communities in rural Ecuador, visit some homes, and tour two hospitals in a developing country. Their final visit was going to be at a girls’ high school where they were to put on presentations: “YOU could be a nurse”, and “A Day in the Life of an RCTC or Anoka-Ramsey nursing student,’” but they were not able to attend that school event due to the school being closed for mosquito fumigation. 200-300 students were out of school due to Chikungunya, a mosquito-borne viral illness.

It is just past the rainy season in Ecuador and the nursing students were informed that hospitals are receiving 70-80 percent of their admissions for Chikungunya. Chikungunya virus is transmitted to people through mosquito bites. Mosquitoes become infected when they feed on a person already infected with the virus. Infected mosquitoes can then spread the virus to other people through bites.

Chikungunya virus is most often spread to people by Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus mosquitoes. These are the same mosquitoes that transmit dengue virus. They bite mostly during the daytime. As of May 19, 2015, a total of 146 chikungunya virus disease cases have been reported in 28 U.S. states for 2015. All reported cases occurred in travelers returning from affected areas. No locally-transmitted cases have been reported from U.S. states. Most people infected with chikungunya virus will develop some symptoms. Symptoms usually begin 3–7 days after being bitten by an infected mosquito. The most common symptoms are fever and joint pain. Other symptoms may include headache, muscle pain, joint swelling, or rash. Chikungunya disease does not often result in death, but the symptoms can be severe and disabling. Most patients feel better within a week.   People at risk for more severe disease include newborns infected around the time of birth, older adults (≥65 years), and people with medical conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes, or heart disease. (I received all this information from the CDC website)

With all of our wet weather it is highly possible we could see some chikungunya in the US.

No nursing students have exhibited any symptoms but they were very careful to cover themselves with mosquito repellent during their study abroad in Ecuador. They were able to teach about the mosquito and insect–borne illnesses of malaria, dengue fever, Chagas Disease and now chiikungunya at their health fairs, along with taking blood pressures, teaching about healthy diets & exercise, measuring BMIs, checking blood sugars and teaching about diabetes, healthy dental care, and healthy baby care for the first year of life. Spending time and doing some crafts with patients with leprosy and children in an orphanage were the highlight of their trip, along with a boat ride to Isla de la Plata in Porta Lopez to see the blue-footed boobies unique to the Galapagos Islands

“The whole purpose of this study abroad trip is to expose these nursing students early in their careers to how they can use their profession to help others in countries with less advanced medical care than their own,” said their nurse educator Diane Witzig. They were able to observe the difference ONE nurse can make by visiting the Damien House where leprosy patients live, and the San Lucas Foundation where Kate Welp, a local RN has been able to help provide surgical assistance to over 160 club feet children over the last 15 years and has helped numerous other patients come to Mayo to receive needed heart surgeries that were not available in their own countries. This is the 6th study abroad trip to Ecuador for RCTC nursing students and many previous nursing students who attended the study abroad class have become registered nurses and gone to Ecuador with Hands or Humanity for their ongoing surgical trips. A non-surgical community development trip is being planned for October, 2015 and information can be obtained from

Any nursing students or nurse interested in joining the 2016 Transcultural Nursing Class and going on the trip next May 2016 should contact Diane Witzig at


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