Defense Department personnel are on the ground in West Africa and in U.S. laboratories fighting to control the worst outbreak in the African history of the Ebola virus, which a senior Army infectious disease doctor called a “scourge of mankind.”
Army Colonel James Cummings, a doctor and director of the Global Emerging Infections Surveillance and Response System in the Armed Forces Health Surveillance Center, said the battle against the virus since the outbreak began in West Africa in March focuses on trying to stop disease transmission.
The Ebola virus has no known cure and up to a 90 percent fatality rate. Only supportive care can be offered to patients diagnosed with the disease while researchers work to find a vaccine. Defense researchers think the viral disease originated in rural populations that eat meat from Ebola-carrying gorillas and monkeys.
The virus is passed among animals or people through body fluids. Only a person who is infected and is showing signs of illness can pass the disease to others. Health care workers and home caretakers who have direct patient contact and those who prepare bodies for burial are especially at risk, the infectious disease doctor said.
“We had a large footprint in Africa,” Cummings said of the Defense Department’s response to the first Ebola cases reported in 1976 in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, formerly Zaire. Since that time, the Defense Department has answered numerous calls for assistance from the World Health Organization (WHO), nongovernmental organizations and ministries of heath and defense, he said.
Defense personnel provide a wide array of support to the Ebola-stricken African nations, from logistical help to guides for clinical management of the virus, Cummings said, adding the U.S service members “bring a level of excellence second to none, working in response to host nations and WHO in the most-affected countries of Sierra Leone and Liberia.”