CDC Director: U.S. Well-Equipped to Care for Citizens with Ebola

August 13, 2014 - 9:41 AM

Tom Frieden

Dr. Tom Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, spoke at a House hearing on the Ebola virus on Aug. 7, 2014. ( Starr)

( – In the past three weeks, two U.S. missionaries who contracted the Ebola virus in West Africa have been brought back to the states for treatment at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta, Ga., and three more have since returned to North Carolina and will remain in isolation for 21 days to make certain they have not been infected.

U.S. health officials, in the meantime, have been putting protocol in place to deal with the current and any future cases that could involve people who have contracted or have been exposed to the virus and to educate the public – including members of Congress – about the facts of the disease and its threat to the American people.

“We do not view Ebola as a significant danger to the United States because it is not transmitted easily, does not spread from people who are not ill, and because cultural norms that contribute to the spread of the disease in Africa – such as burial customs – are not a factor in the United States,” Dr. Tom Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said at an emergency hearing of the House Foreign Affairs’ Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights and International Organizations on Thursday.

“We know how to stop Ebola with strict infection control practices which are already in widespread uses in American hospitals, and by stopping it at the source in Africa,” Frieden said.

Frieden also categorized the current outbreak of Ebola as the “biggest and most complex” ever documented.

According to the CDC, there are 1,848 suspected or confirmed cases of the virus and 1,013 suspected deaths. Laboratory confirmed cases total 1,176, according to the CDC.

At the hearing, Frieden spoke about this latest outbreak of Ebola, its global implications and the care of the two U.S. citizens that have the virus.

“These events have focused attention on the ongoing risk of the outbreak spreading to other countries, the need for constant vigilance in infection control procedures when in contact with patients and the heroism and sacrifice of health care workers, and volunteers from the United States and around the globe, in the face of this dreadful and merciless virus,” Frieden said in his prepared testimony.

“Bringing humanitarian workers back home to the United States is the right thing to do to help save lives,” Frieden said.

Following the hearing, Frieden reiterated to reporters that the Ebola outbreak was serious but that the virus can be contained.

“This is an unprecedented outbreak of Ebola, but it can be stopped,” Frieden said. “It’s going to be a long, hard fight, but we are there.

“We are surging our response, and we are doing what we can to help stop it at the source in Africa and protect Americans here,” Frieden said.

When asked why the decision was made to bring the ill health care workers to the U.S. given his testimony about “stopping it at its source in Africa,” Frieden said it was the Christian Samaritan’s Purse’s decision to bring their missionaries back home and that safety was a priority for both the victims and the U.S. population.

“As American citizens, they have a right of return,” Frieden said. “What our role is at the CDC is to make sure that as that is done, it is done safely.

“So we made sure that in the transport, in their care at Emory that they’re treated with full infection control to keep to an absolute minimum the chance that they would infect others,” Frieden said.

At the hearing, Frieden said the keys to stopping the spread of the virus was identifying those with the disease, isolating them and tracking their contacts.