Now that the first American infected with the Ebola virus has died, the question on the minds of many is “Who will be next?” Thoughts immediately turn to the 3,000 U.S. service men and women the administration sent to West Africa to grapple with the outbreak there. As noted previously, the president has expressed reluctance to send ground forces into Iraq and Syria to take on ISIS, insisting he does not want to send members of our military into harm’s way. But what could be a greater source of harm than coming into contact with a deadly virus?
The Pentagon has confirmed that U.S. military personnel will come into contact with infected blood samples.
Via Fox News:
The U.S. military mission to combat Ebola in West Africa is facing questions about the serious health risks American troops will encounter in heading to the epicenter of the deadly outbreak.
According to officials, a small group of trained military medical technicians on the ground will not be required to make direct contact with patients infected with the Ebola virus. However, they will have to handle infected blood samples, which Pentagon officials acknowledged Tuesday could be just as dangerous, if not more.
Already, three mobile-testing labs, staffed by three or four technicians each, have been deployed in Liberia as part of Operation United Assistance, the U.S. military’s effort to combat the Ebola virus. Four more labs have been requested.
Gen. David Rodriguez, the head of the U.S. Africa Command, assured reporters on Tuesday that these teams are equipped to take all the necessary precautions. “Those people are trained to the very highest level of operating in a nuclear, biological, and chemical arena, and they are tested continually,” he said, adding:
Let me assure you, by providing pre-deployment training, adhering to strict medical protocols while deployed, and carrying out carefully planned reintegration measures based on risk and exposure, I am confident that we can ensure our service members’ safety and the safety of their families and the American people.
But Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby sounded the alarm, noting handling tainted blood samples carries with it serious risk, “if not more risk” than direct contact with patients.
Further increasing the risk are both the duration of the mission and the conditions in which troops will be housed. From the Army Times:
Thousands of U.S. troops may be living in tent cities in Liberia and supporting the fight against Ebola for “about a year” or until the deadly outbreak appears to be under control, the top military commander in Africa said Oct. 7.
“This is not a small effort and it’s not a short period of time,” Army Gen. David Rodriguez….
About 350 U.S. troops are now in West Africa and total deployments may reach 4,000 during the next several weeks. The size and scope of the mission has expanded from initial estimates in September, when officials said it would last about six months and require about 3,000 troops.
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