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 News Article

Health Chief Outlines Precautions for Ebola Response Troops

By Cheryl Pellerin
DoD News, Defense Media Activity

WASHINGTON, Oct. 23, 2014 – Fighting the West Africa Ebola epidemic is immediately and strategically important to the United States, and the Defense Department is taking every precaution to minimize risk to deployed troops, the assistant secretary of defense for health affairs said in a recent interview.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
A U.S. airman assigned to the Joint Task Force-Port Opening team at Roberts International Airport in Monrovia, Liberia, checks the temperature of military personnel entering the airport as a safety precaution during Operation United Assistance, Oct. 16, 2014. U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Gustavo Gonzalez

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

In an Oct. 17 DoD News interview, Dr. Jonathan Woodson spoke about the deadly outbreak and the importance to global health security of the U.S. military’s contribution in support of the whole-of-government effort being led by the U.S. Agency for International Development.

Woodson said it’s important for service members, their families and the American public to understand why troops are being sent to West Africa.

Best defense is to stop Ebola’s spread in West Africa

“It's important for the world community to respond to stop the spread of Ebola,” the assistant secretary said. “As we've seen, it's reached our shore. It takes one person to get on a plane and [Ebola] is here, so our best defense … is to stop the spread of that epidemic there.”

In doing so, he added, troops working in West Africa must be protected.

“The Military Health System has always been in the business of force health protection,” Woodson said. “It goes all the way back to the colonial army, when we dealt with smallpox, and to Walter Reed's effort to find a cure for yellow fever.”

The effort to assure troops’ safe deployment and return begins with predeployment training, during which they’re educated about the West African environment and about what they need to do and what self-protection procedures they need to perform, gauged against their risk, the assistant secretary said.

“We're going to train them in the use of personal protective equipment [and] vaccinate them against the known communicable diseases there, such as typhoid [and] yellow fever … and give them medicines to protect them against malaria,” he added.

The troops’ mission

The troops’ mission is to build Ebola treatment units, Woodson said, not to directly treat Ebola victims.

“While they're in theater, we will be actively monitoring them every day,” he said. “We'll be taking their temperature twice a day, their supervisors will be asking them about any exposure history, and we'll be able, in real time, to monitor any exposures that might happen and monitor for any symptoms.”

One could rightly worry about inadvertent contact or a situation spawned by an emergency, Woodson said, so troops will have personal protective equipment and will be trained in how to don it and take it off.

“They will be supervised, and … battle buddies will be watching out for these exposures,” he added. “I think we can minimize any chance of exposure or risk with that strategy.”

(Follow Cheryl Pellerin on Twitter @PellerinDoDNews)

Contact Author

Dr. Jonathan Woodson

Related Sites:
Special Report: DoD Helps Fight Ebola in West Africa: Operation United Assistance
Military Health System

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