The PJ Tatler

What Is the White House Doing to Guard U.S. from Ebola Virus?

A leading member of the House Appropriations Committee said the Obama administration needs to get cracking on an Ebola strategy in the event the deadly virus hops a plane to the U.S.

Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.) on the House floor yesterday referenced the growing outbreak in West Africa, which has made two American healthcare workers in Liberia ill.

“This horrible disease knows no borders and has already claimed the lives of 660 people in four countries since it was first detected in March,” Wolf said.

“The White House needs to pull together the CDC, NIH, State Department and USAID with the World Health Organization and other western governments to stave off this outbreak before it spreads further,” he continued.

“I am concerned that there is not a sufficient plan in place either in Africa or in the event that it spreads into the U.S. We live in a global world. We need a clear plan and strong leadership now; we can’t wait until a case shows up in the U.S.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in a press briefing yesterday that the agency “has deployed several teams to the region since the outbreak began.”

“As you may have also heard, two American healthcare workers at a hospital in Monrovia, Liberia, have been infected with Ebola virus. One of the healthcare workers, a physician who worked with Ebola patients in the hospital, is symptomatic and in isolation. The other health care worker developed fever but no other signs of illness. The physician’s family had been living with him in Liberia. Thankfully, the family members had returned to the United States before the doctor got sick and therefore are not at risk for contracting Ebola or spreading it to anyone here. Out of an abundance of caution, the family is currently on a 21 day fever watch,” said Stephan Monroe, deputy director of CDC’s National Center for Emerging Zoonotic and Infectious Diseases.

CDC has issued a level 2 travel notice for Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone, advising that travelers “avoid contact with blood and body fluids of infected people to protect themselves.”

Level three would be a warning to avoid nonessential travel.

Marty Cetron, CDC director for Global Migration and Quarantine, said airport screening of passengers for symptoms had not been initiated.

“The yield is much, much great greater to try to control the disease at the source, and control the screening and close to the source,” Cetron said. “The vast majority of flights from this region to the United States are indirect, they don’t directly fly from these countries to the U.S., with few exceptions. The more you move through other hub areas the more that gets diluted. The yield of fever being predictive of Ebola goes way, way down. So the kinds of measures that are in discussion right now are close to the scene of the epidemic.”

Nigeria recently was introduced to the virus by a passenger who arrived from Liberia. Monroe said “health authorities are currently investigating whether passengers or crew on the plane or other people who had contact with the ill traveler are at risk for infection.”

“I think border closures for infectious diseases are quite uncommon. As you’re aware with the new international health regulations, there is an international protocol for determining through emergency committees and decisions made by panels of experts that make recommendations to the director general about border measures or screenings as a way to control epidemics. They’re really only sort of called into play for very serious epidemics that require such measures. What I read from over the weekend from Liberia is that certain borders are being closed while other crossings are being opened and they’re able to implement their health exit screening and so on,” Cetron said, adding that he thinks those are the kind of discussions that go on in emergency committees at the World Health Organization.

National Security Adviser Susan Rice told MSNBC that “the United States, from the very beginning of the outbreak in April, has been on the ground with personnel from our Agency for International Development, from the Centers for Disease Control, working with the World Health Organization and others to try and treat and company the regions contain the epidemic.”

“But it is indeed a very worrying epidemic,” Rice added.

State Department press secretary Jen Psaki said they “continue to closely monitor the outbreak of the virus.”

“We are aware of reports. You all have reported it that two citizens in Liberia have contracted Ebola,” she told reporters at Monday’s briefing.

Psaki was asked if the outbreak would affect next week’s summit of African leaders at the White House.

“Obviously, we’re taking every precaution, but at this point we don’t believe it will,” she replied.

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