U.S. troops will be protected while doing their critical work in West Africa -- helping the U.S. Agency for International Development stop the deadly Ebola outbreak there -- and after they come home, the assistant secretary of defense for health affairs said in a recent interview.
Speaking Oct. 17 with DoD News, Dr. Jonathan Woodson detailed the Defense Department’s plan for keeping troops safe while they’re deployed in West Africa, getting them home for treatment if a service member becomes infected, and making sure their families and communities are safe when all the troops come home.
“We owe them every measure we can take to keep them safe and we are going to do that,” Woodson said.
Active monitoring for 21 days after return
Upon redeployment, each service member will be assessed by medical professionals and actively monitored for 21 days after they return, Woodson said.
Returning troops won’t be quarantined for 21 days -- the incubation period from the time of Ebola infection to the appearance of symptoms is two to 21 days -- but during that period, they’ll have supervised temperature checks and they'll be directly asked about any symptoms, he said. Ebola symptoms for someone who is very ill include fever, malaise, muscle ache, vomiting, diarrhea and collapse or exhaustion.
“The strategy we have for monitoring service members in theater would have us pick up symptoms at the earliest possible time to prevent additional contacts … so the time frame we're talking about, at a maximum, is 12 hours,” Woodson said. “This will protect them, and it will protect the American public upon redeployment.”
Plan in place
If a service member is somehow exposed to the body fluids of a sick Ebola patient while in West Africa, depending on the exposure type, he or she will be classified as at moderate or high risk for the disease, Woodson said.
The service member then would be evacuated to the United States by a dedicated aircraft and “cared for in one of the high-quality units that have been identified for treatment of Ebola victims,” he said, such as the Emory University Hospital in Atlanta or the National Institutes of Health Clinical Center in Bethesda, Maryland.
The assistant secretary added that military medical facilities have received enhanced guidance about how to handle potential Ebola victims who could present themselves for treatment.
“We are conducting training to ensure that all of our medical personnel know exactly what to do should a potential Ebola victim arrive on the doorstep,” he said. This includes identifying potential patients by symptoms and travel history, isolating them, performing the right tests to make the diagnosis and ensuring that health care workers and communities are protected from the disease.
Every measure to keep troops safe
“I want everybody to understand that we deeply appreciate what our men and women in uniform do. We have called upon them time and again to perform heroically in a number of circumstances -- Iraq, Afghanistan, and now again in a sort of different mission,” Woodson said.
“They are performing a mission that is in the United States' immediate and strategic interest -- to keep the larger American population safe,” he added. “So, we thank them for that. And I think we've taken every precaution to minimize their risk.”
(Follow Cheryl Pellerin on Twitter @PellerinDoDNews)