Annabel Grossman / Daily Mail Online – 2014-10-23 16:59:04
(October 20, 2014) — Soldiers from the 101st Airborne Division deployed to Ebola hotspots in West Africa to battle the deadly disease will not receive full protective Hazmat suits for their mission.
Instead, the troops will be given only masks and gloves to protect them from the potentially fatal virus, General David Rodriguez said at a Pentagon briefing.
The Kentucky-based Army division is being sent to Liberia to help coordinate the response to the epidemic, and will primarily be building hospitals and treatment and training centers.
Major General Darryl Williams, the commander of US troops in Africa, claimed that the soldiers would not need full protective Hazmat suits as they would not be coming into direct contact with anyone infected with Ebola, Nashville Public Radio reports.
He said: ‘They don’t need the whole suit — as such — because they’re not going to be in contact with any of the people.’
General Rodriguez said that soldiersâ€™ health will be monitored through surveys and taking their temperatures on their way in and out of camps. If a serviceman does get sick, they will be flown home immediately for treatment. The troops will be housed either in tent cities at military airfields or in Liberian Ministry of Defense facilities.
Next week, the 101st Airborne will hold a traditional pre-deployment ceremony — known as a ‘color casing’ — before departing for Liberia. As the Ebola threat evolves, the Pentagon has acknowledged the size and duration of the mission in West Africa could too. Deployments might even top the current projection of nearly 4,000, an increase from an earlier estimate of around 3,000.
The military has already stood up a headquarters in Liberia’s capital, Monrovia, and hopes to have a 25-bed field hospital up and running by the middle of this month. It also aims to quickly build up to 17 Ebola treatment units.
Last week, the 101st Airborne were seen learning how to put on Hazmat suits as part of their intense safety training at Fort Campbell ahead of their deployment to Liberia. But it appears that this part of the training will not be put to use in the coming weeks, if soldiers are not provided with the full-suit protective clothing.
At the weekend, it emerged that US soldiers are being flown to West Africa following just four hours of training in how to protect themselves against the deadly virus. This includes how to put on, remove and decontaminate protective equipment, as well as a practical test that aims to ensure soldiers understand the procedures.
During the four-hour hazmat training, a team of two can train as many as 50 soldiers, the United States Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases told The Daily Beast.
According to USA Today, the four-hour training process can be daunting for soldiers, with some being told that Ebola ‘basically causes your body to eat itself from the inside out’. Others have reportedly been warned that the disease is ‘worse’ that what they might have encountered in Afghanistan, while several have been told the virus is ‘catastrophic… with a high fatality rate’.
‘Iâ€™ll be honest with you,’ one soldier told the newspaper. ‘Iâ€™m kind of scared.’
Despite the trainers’ apparent shock tactics, the Army maintains that the risk of soldiers contracting the virus is minimal because it is not airborne and they will not have contact with sick patients. ‘It’s been shown that this disease is most manifest when handling bodily fluid — blood, other sorts of fluids, said Major General Williams. ‘There is no plan right now for U.S. soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines to do that’.
The servicemen are also not permitted to shake hands, must frequently wash their hands with a chlorine solution and are required to have their temperatures measured several times a day. However, some are working with Liberian Army members on a daily basis, and their current living quarters — particularly those in hotels — means they are surrounded by foreign nationals.
Military spokesmen said they were relying on CDC guidelines to protect soldiers against Ebola. But these guidelines have been called into question after victim Thomas Eric Duncan was misdiagnosed and his nurse was allowed to board a plane just a day before she was hospitalized with the virus.
President Barack Obama has committed more than $1 billion toward a global fund to battle Ebola in West Africa.
Since the Ebola outbreak, most cases of the virus have been recorded in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone. Symptoms of the virus include a high fever, vomiting, a headache and joint aches.
These appear two to 21 days after exposure to the disease, the CDC said.
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