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Ebola-zone Troops’ Health Remains Top Concern, Official Says

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Ensuring that U.S. personnel dispatched to West Africa to help stop the spread of Ebola don’t contract the deadly disease remains the U.S. military’s top priority, a senior Defense Department official said today, as the first group of military personnel deployed to Africa as part of Operation United Assistance were set to return to the United States.

“Our government has deployed a top-notch team experienced in dealing with disasters and humanitarian assistance,” Michael D. Lumpkin, the assistant secretary of defense for special operations and low intensity conflict, told the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

“In all circumstances, the protection of our personnel and the prevention of any additional transmission of the disease remain paramount planning factors,” Lumpkin told the House panel.

Preventing the Spread of Ebola

The World Health Organization says more than 5,100 people have died of Ebola in Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea since March. New cases have now been reported in Mali where at least four deaths are reported, and today Lumpkin described the disease as potentially having an impact on U.S national security.

“Absent our government’s coordinated response in West Africa,” he said, “the virus’s spread brings the risk of more cases here in the United States.”

More than 2,200 U.S military personnel are now in West Africa as part of Operation United Assistance to support U.S. and international efforts to stop the spread of what health care officials have said is the world’s worst Ebola outbreak.

Troops Return from Liberia

The first group of military personnel to return home from the affected area were set to arrive today at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia, aboard a military flight after being deployed to Liberia, according to a statement issued today by Pentagon Press Secretary Navy Rear Adm. John Kirby. He said none of the 84 returning service members show symptoms of Ebola, but that all will be placed under a controlled monitoring regime for 21 days. Even though they have not been involved in directly treating Ebola patients, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has accepted a recommendation made by the Joint Chiefs of Staff that all returning military personnel be monitored for three weeks as a precautionary measure.

In his statement, Kirby said those returning will be medically screened and transported to a controlled monitoring area at a secluded site and will continue to receive twice-daily screenings during the 21-day monitoring period. The 51 Air Force, 27 Navy, four Marines and two Army personnel will be able to communicate with family by telephone and electronic means during the period.

(Follow Nick Simeone on Twitter: @simeoneDoDNews)

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