U.S. Soldiers Under Ebola Quarantine in Italy After Aiding Against West African Outbreak
It shouldn't come as much surprise that there's some new, bad news about Ebola Monday, but it's sad to report all the same. Even as a storm of media coverage tracks the handful of cases of Ebola within the United States, it's crucial not to forget where the outbreak is truly having a devastating consequences on thousands of people's lives — in the thick of West Africa, across the countries of Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Liberia. And now, many U.S. soldiers are under Ebola quarantine in Italy after working to halt that West African outbreak.
There are reportedly 11 soldiers, including Major General Darryl Williams, who are currently under observation at a U.S. military facility in Vicenza, Italy, and they'll continue to be so until they've cleared the 21-day incubation period the CDC cites for the virus. There have been numerous instances of Ebola infecting the very people who are trying to fight it. This was true of British aid worker William Pooley, who survived Ebola under hospital care back home in the UK, Sierra Leone native and revered doctor Sheik Umar Khan, who tragically died, and Americans Dr. Kent Brantly and Nancy Writebol, both of whom survived after treatment at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta, Georgia.
As CNN's Barbara Starr notes, it's unclear why the 11 soldiers are being handled this way. The Department of Defense's existing policy for handling potential Ebola infections is that asymptomatic people — that is to say, non-contagious people, as Ebola requires symptomatic bodily fluid contact for transmission — are allowed to "return to work and routine daily activities with family members."
But clearly, there was something that made military authorities think twice about letting these soldiers return to U.S. soil just yet. According to Pentagon spokesperson Col. Steve Warren, the move was "out of an abundance of caution," and none of the confined soldiers have shown any symptoms. They'll apparently be under observation for the full 21 days regardless, however, while receiving twice-a-day temperature checks. A fever is one of the earliest signs of a potential Ebola infection, preceding the grislier, more dangerous symptoms, internal and external bleeding, vomiting, and diarrhea among them.
Suffice it to say, this is probably a deeply upsetting situation to be in, although the military can take heart that even civilians aren't immune from this sort of aggressive, mandatory response — Kaci Hickox, for example, a nurse, was quarantined by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie upon returning to the U.S. from West Africa, despite showing no symptoms. It was announced Monday that Hickox will be flown home to Maine to complete an in-house quarantine, amid furious criticism over Christie's handling of the incident.
In any event, there's this much to be hopeful about: none of the soldiers currently under observation have yet shown any sign they actually have the virus. However daunting it may be to be confined in one place for three weeks, a medical assurance that these 11 troops are in the clear will likely be good enough news to smooth over the discontent. After all, there's a reason people are so prone to freaking out about Ebola — it's killed a lot of people. Though precise estimates of its mortality rate vary (the CDC pegs it at around 50 percent, while a September WHO report cited a dire 70 percent figure), its potential for lethality can't be overlooked.
Hopefully these soldiers will be cleared as soon as possible, and can all get back to their lives, careers and families.
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