Following through on President Obama’s pledge to lead a robust international response to the Ebola epidemic, the United States is preparing to send up to 3,600 military personnel into West Africa – 600 more than originally planned – to aid in the fight against the deadly disease.
According to NBC News, there is currently an advance team of about 230 U.S. military on the ground in Liberia, one of the countries hit hardest by the current outbreak. Over 3,400 people have perished from Ebola, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates, with thousands more probable, confirmed, and suspected cases.
The U.S. team is expected to assist in the construction of a 25-bed hospital intended to treat medical personnel who have contracted Ebola. That facility is scheduled to be up and running in Liberia by mid-October. Three medical labs will also be constructed, as well as 17 100-bed treatment facilities throughout six West African countries, as needed, within the coming weeks.
Eventually, the U.S. will also provide medical personnel to “train” health care workers, NBC News reported, but as of now there are no plans for the U.S. military to provide direct care to Ebola patients.
Obama said last week that the current Ebola epidemic sweeping West Africa was a “security threat” to all nations around the world.
“This has to be a global priority,” the president told U.S. lawmakers and representatives from 44 countries at the Global Health Security Agenda Summit in Washington, D.C. “[I]n a world as interconnected as ours, outbreaks anywhere – even in the most remote villages, in the remote corners of the world – have the potential to impact everybody, every nation.”
Four days later, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) confirmed the first diagnosis of Ebola in the United States. Thomas Eric Duncan, a 42-year-old resident of Monrovia, Liberia, tested positive for the disease on Sept. 30, 10 days after he arrived in Dallas to visit family. He is currently in serious condition at the Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital.
The CDC is working with state and local officials in Dallas to asses about 100 people who may have had contact with Duncan. So far, they have selected 50 individuals for daily observation, health officials said Friday. Of those 50, 10 are considered at high risk for contracting Ebola, while the rest are considered at low risk, Dr. David Lakey, commissioner of the Texas Department of State Health Services, told reporters Friday.
Additionally, Texas Health officials have ordered four of Duncan’s family members to remain in their home and not have any visitors until at least Oct. 19, when the disease’s incubation period has passed. It can take up to 21 days for a person infected with Ebola to develop symptoms, at which point they can transmit the disease through bodily fluids. Dallas County has contracted with a private company to decontaminate the apartment where Duncan was staying.
Ebola is not an airborne illness, and health experts are confident it won’t spread in the U.S., which has a far more sophisticated medical infrastructure than Liberia’s. Still, in order to reduce the risk to zero, CDC Director Tom Frieden said Thursday, the outbreak must be controlled in West Africa.
News of the Pentagon’s boosted military response comes as the fourth American was diagnosed with Ebola. On Thursday night, NBC News confirmed that a freelance photojournalist working for the network in Liberia had tested positive for the disease and was being evacuated to the U.S. for treatment. The Nebraska Medical Center – the same hospital that successfully treated Dr. Richard Sacra, the third American to be stricken with the disease – will care for the photojournalist, identified as Ashoka Mukpo, who is scheduled to arrive at the facility on Monday. The team working with Mukpo, including NBC News Chief Medical Editor and Correspondent Dr. Nancy Snyderman, will return to the U.S. and remain in quarantine for 21 days.
Reports started to come in Friday of potential Ebola cases in the U.S., though no confirmed diagnoses have yet been made. On Friday, a spokesperson for Howard University Hospital in Washington, D.C., confirmed to NBC that a patient had been admitted in stable condition following travel to Nigeria and presenting symptoms that could be associated with Ebola. In an abundance of caution, the patient has been placed in isolation where the individual will continue to be monitored in close collaboration with the CDC and the Department of Health. The Shady Grove Adventist Hospital in Maryland said Friday that it too had receive a patient with flu-like symptoms and a travel history matching criteria for possible Ebola. At this time, lab results indicated that the patient had another illness, though the hospital is keeping the individual in isolation.