WASHINGTON - The United States is sending at least 50 disease-control specialists to West Africa to help find, respond to and stop the spread of the deadly Ebola virus, which has claimed more than 700 lives. An American health care worker, who contracted the disease in Liberia, is expected to return to the United States Tuesday, following the return of an infected American doctor August 2.
The director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Tom Frieden, told US broadcast interviewers Sunday that while the Ebola outbreak in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia is currently out of control, it can be contained.
"What we’re doing now at CDC is surging our response. We are going to put at least 50 public health experts in the three countries in the next 30 days because, actually, we do know how to stop Ebola. It’s old-fashioned, plain-and-simple public health; find the patients, make sure they get treated, find their contacts, track them, educate people, do infection-control in hospitals. You do those things, and you have to do them really well, and Ebola goes away," said Frieden.
Frieden said the impact of an Ebola outbreak on a society can be devastating.
"It can destroy not just the confidence in health care, but have huge social and economic impacts on society. In parts of Africa, where we’ve dealt with Ebola for years, we’re much better able to control it. We find the cases quickly, we stop them quickly, and we prevent the practices that may allow it to spread. That’s what eventually we will be able to do here. The sooner we do it, the fewer people will die from it," Frieden said.
He said that a vaccine against Ebola is a long way away, and, for now, the best way to contain it is to stop it at its source, namely West Africa. He cautions it will neither be quick nor easy, and he expects the situation to worsen before it gets better.
The World Health Organization says more than 700 people have died from the disease since it was first detected in Guinea in March.
Frieden said Kent Brantly, who became infected while treating patients in Liberia and returned to the United States Saturday aboard a specially-equipped private jet, is improving at Atlanta’s Emory University Hospital.
A second infected American, missionary Nancy Writebol, who also contracted the virus in Liberia, is expected to be transported to Emory Tuesday.
On Friday, President Obama said US officials are taking the situation very seriously.
"As soon as there is an outbreak in the world of any disease that could have significant effects, the CDC is in communication with the World Health Organization and other multi-lateral agencies to try to make sure that we’ve got an appropriate response. This has been a more aggressive outbreak of Ebola than we’ve seen in the past, but keep in mind that it is still affecting parts of three countries," said Obama.
Obama said U.S. officials are taking “appropriate precautions” in screening African delegations in Washington for a three-day US/Africa summit. Some 50 African heads of state are attending the summit. Two invited African leaders, from Sierra Leone and Liberia, canceled their participation due to the Ebola crisis.
Friday, the WHO announced a $100-million emergency plan in conjunction with the three affected countries that includes a strengthening of control and response measures. A WHO spokesman said some 600 specialists will be needed to carry it out.
An estimated 2400 volunteers from the International Red Cross Federation have been working in all three countries since the outbreak began.
Meanwhile, Dubai-based Emirates became the first major international airline to suspend all flights to Guinea to prevent the spread of Ebola. It will continue flights to Dakar, Senegal, which borders Guinea. Several carriers and airports are screening passengers from the region for the illness.