WASHINGTON – The general charged with leading the U.S. military mission to aid in stopping the spread of Ebola in Liberia said today that deployed personnel are at a “relatively low” risk of contracting the disease, and that protocols are in place for anyone infected to be quarantined and then evacuated to a medical facility off the continent for treatment.
“It’s been shown that this disease is most manifest when handling bodily fluids -- blood, other sorts of fluids -- and there is no plan right now for U.S. soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines to do that,” Army Maj. Gen. Darryl A. Williams, commander of the joint task force for the effort dubbed Operation United Assistance, told reporters at the Pentagon today by phone from the Liberian capital, Monrovia.
The exception, he said, is the handful of mobile labs where U.S. military personnel are testing specimens from people suspected of having Ebola, but he emphasized that those technicians are trained at the highest level and work with multiple layers of protection.
No plans for military personnel to treat patients
There are no plans for U.S. military personnel to be involved in treating Ebola patients directly. Instead, the up to 4,000 U.S. service personnel expected to arrive in Liberia in the coming weeks are establishing treatment and testing facilities, training hundreds of health care providers and carrying out logistical work in support of the U.S. and international response to the epidemic.
Some 500 U.S. military personnel are now in the region as part of the mission.
Williams said the U.S. military has completed construction of a 25-bed hospital in Monrovia to treat health care workers who might be exposed. As many as 65 American doctors and nurses dispatched by the U.S. Public Health Service -- a uniformed division of the Department of Health and Human Services -- are expected to arrive in the country in the coming days to staff the facility. "They will actually be involved in the care and feeding of health care workers who have been inflicted with the Ebola virus,” the general said.
Multiple precautions, compliance with guidelines
While Williams said he could not rule out the possibility of American personnel contracting Ebola, he noted that everyone is taking multiple precautions in compliance with prevention guidelines established by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “As long as you exercise basic sanitation and cleanliness sort of protocols -- using chlorine wash on your hands and your feet, get your temperature taken, limiting exposure, no handshaking -- I think the risk is relatively low,” he said.
Williams spoke a month after arriving in Liberia to command the military mission that is supporting U.S. and other international efforts to stop the spread of Ebola, the worst outbreak of the disease in history. Since it surfaced in West Africa in March, the World Health Organization now puts the number of people infected at nearly 9,000, with nearly 4,500 having died in the region.