WASHINGTON – The head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention told Congress Thursday the current Ebola outbreak is the largest of the disease ever, developing into an international crisis that “has now come to the United States.”
“It is inevitable someone will fly from West Africa to the United States with Ebola symptoms,” CDC Director Thomas Frieden acknowledged in a rare congressional hearing held during the August recess.
He affirmed a repeated concern of the United Nations’ World Health Organization that the virus has up to a 21-day incubation period, meaning an infected person could get on an airplane in West Africa before symptoms appear and the person becomes contagious.
The two American health workers that contracted Ebola in West Africa and were flown back to the U.S. for treatment are unlikely to be the only cases, he acknowledged.
“It is possible people who have contracted Ebola in West Africa can travel here to the United States and infect others here,” Frieden said. “This is why we need those who have traveled to West Africa and begin to show symptoms after they get back to the United States to get medical treatment immediately, fully reporting their recent travel history.
“We here are experiencing here in the United States a perfect-storm health emergency,” he said.
Frieden said the CDC raised its emergency operations center to Level 1, the highest possible alert in an effort to better coordinate a surge of medical health professionals and equipment being rushed to West Africa in an effort to contain the Ebola outbreak.
‘Out of Control’
Appearing before the subcommittee in a second panel was Ken Isaacs, vice president of program and government relations for Samaritan’s Purse, an evangelical Christian organization with 38 years of experience in humanitarian relief in more than 100 countries, including Afghanistan, North Korea, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria and Liberia.
“The Ebola crisis we are now facing is not a surprise to us at Samaritan’s Purse, but it took two Americans getting the disease in order for the international community and the United States to take serious notice of the largest outbreak of the disease in history,” he testified, introducing a political element to the hearing.
“We are starting to see panic now around the world,” Isaacs noted. “People want to know. I don’t know about you folks, but I look at the Drudge Report. It can drive a lot of panic.”
He called the declaration of a state emergency declared Wednesday by the president of Liberia “at least a month too late.”
“In mid-June, I began speaking privately to U.S. officials that the disease was spiraling out of control and more needed to be done immediately,” he said.
Isaacs noted that in mid-July he published an op-ed in the New York Times “calling for an increased and accelerated response to this horrific disease.”
“I have been writing editorials explaining the current outbreak is out of control,” he said. ‘It is clear to say the disease in West Africa is uncontained and out of control. The international response to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa has been a failure.”
He charged that the ministries of health in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia do not have the capacity to handle these crises in their countries.
“If a mechanism is not found to create an acceptable paradigm for the international community to become directly involved, then the world will be relegating the containment of this disease that threatens Africa and other countries to three of the poorest nations in the world,” he explained.
He warned that in Liberia cultural practices propagate the spread of the disease, the biggest being the veneration of the dead, including the washing and kissing of the corpse.
“The corpse of an Ebola victim is at its maximum point of contamination in the hours immediately following death,” he testified. “Every contact with the corpse of an Ebola victim will result in another infection. This practice is so strongly held that our staff has been faced with violence when the ritual was threatened by attempted collection of a corpse for sanitized burial.”
Reliance on self-reporting
In an interview last week with WND, WHO spokesman Gregory Hartl admitted the risk of the virus spreading remains as long as air travel from West Africa continues.
Hartl said that to stop Ebola from spreading by air travel, the WHO had to rely on “a person doing the right thing” by presenting himself immediately to a medical facility in the destination country once Ebola symptoms began to appear and saying, “I’ve just returned from West Africa.”
WHO Director General Margaret Chan held a five-hour emergency meeting last week with the heads of state of Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia, who agreed to use military forces and police to isolate the region responsible for more than 70 percent of the growing Ebola epidemic.
CDC preparing for Ebola patients in U.S. hospitals
Apparently anticipating more Ebola patients in U.S. hospitals, the CDC published guidelines Thursday for the “Safe Management of Patients with Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) in U.S. Hospitals.”
“The recent EVD outbreak in West Africa has increased the possibility of patients traveling from the impacted country to the United States,” the guidelines read.
“Additionally, two American citizens with EVD were medically evacuated to the United States to receive care at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta.”
The CDC advisory recommended that U.S. hospitals isolate the patient in a proper room and implement standard contact precautions.
Dr. Ariel Pablos-Méndez, assistant administrator of the Bureau for Global Health at the U.S. Agency for International Development, explained the Ebola virus plaguing West Africa today is a mutated form of the virus originally detected crossing over from bats to humans.
Bisa Williams, deputy assistant secretary of the Bureau of African Affairs at the U.S. State Department, confirmed the State Department has issued guidelines for screening airline passengers traveling to the United States from the impacted countries of Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia and now Nigeria.