Infectious Diseases

Updated 14 August 2014

CDC commits more than 400 staffers to fight Ebola

The U.S. Centres for Disease Control and Prevention has pledged to fight the worst ever Ebola outbreak by deploying staff in West Africa while others are working from the U.S.

The U.S. Centres for Disease Control and Prevention has 55 staffers already in Ebola-hit areas of West Africa helping to fight the current outbreak, the agency said on Wednesday.

Another 350 U.S.-based CDC personnel are working on other aspects of the health crisis, agency officials said.

Read: Fear hampers fight against Ebola in West Africa

The outbreak, centered in Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria, and Sierra Leone, has already claimed more than 1,000 lives, the World Health Organisation reported. Two infected Americans, Dr. Kent Brantly and Nancy Writebol, were flown for care at a special facility in Atlanta over the past week and now appear to be making a recovery.

Disease continuing to spread

In the meantime, however, the biggest outbreak ever of Ebola continued to spread in West Africa, the CDC said. Last week, the agency boosted its response to the outbreak to its highest level of alert.

"We are fulfilling our promise to the people of West Africa, Americans, and the world, that CDC would quickly ramp up its efforts to help bring the worst Ebola outbreak in history under control," agency Director Dr. Tom Frieden said in a statement. "We know how to stop Ebola. It won't be easy or fast, but working together with our U.S. and international partners and country leadership, together we are doing it."

Left untreated, Ebola disease has a 90 percent fatality rate. There is no known treatment or vaccine, although experimental medicines are in the pipeline. One such medicine, called Zmapp, may have helped Brantly's and Writebol's recovery.

According to the CDC, 55 staffers are now deployed in West Africa: 14 in Guinea, 18 in Liberia, 16 in Sierra Leone, and seven in Nigeria. While some staffers may be rotated in and out of various positions, the CDC expects to have more than 60 people on the ground in the affected areas for the coming months.

Read: Health of American doctor with Ebola improving

'Contact tracing'

One key effort those staffers will be involved with includes "contact tracing" – tracking down people who may have been in contact with an infected person and checking for signs of illness over the next 21 days.

"Ebola virus can remain in the body for weeks before making a person sick," the CDC noted. "If any of the people who were in contact with a person sick with Ebola develops a fever or other Ebola symptoms, that person is isolated and treated and the cycle starts again – and all of that person's contacts must be traced and followed for 21 days."

CDC personnel will be active in training and coordinating health-care workers in Africa and collecting and analysing data on the outbreak. Staffers will also help educate residents of affected areas on how best to avoid getting infected with Ebola and the importance of seeking out care as soon as symptoms appear.

Other staffers will help boost infection-control measures at airports and border crossings, the CDC said.

The agency's efforts are being coordinated with U.S. government and international partners "as part of this worldwide emergency response to the Ebola outbreak," Dr. Inger Damon, incident manager for the CDC Ebola response, added in the news release. "Our primary goal is to bring to an end to the suffering of so many as well as develop the public health infrastructure there to help prevent future outbreaks."

Read: Ebola "vaccine" goes viral in Nigeria

No threat to U.S.

The CDC stressed that Ebola "poses very little or no threat to the U.S. community at large." However, agency officials said they're working to boost surveillance efforts in the United States, while providing accurate, up-to-date dissemination of information about Ebola to the general public.

The CDC is also working to ensure that more laboratories across the United States are equipped to diagnose Ebola infection quickly and accurately.

As for U.S. health-care workers, "our health care professionals can safely manage an Ebola patient," CDC infection control expert Dr. David Kuhar said in the agency statement.

"What we recommend to prevent transmission of Ebola in hospital settings is similar to what we recommend for other infectious diseases spread by direct contact and possibly droplets."

Read more:

Ebola: Asian nations screening travellers
American woman with Ebola is 'smiling'
Ethical questions around who gets Ebola drug

Image: CDC headquarters from Shutterstock

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