JOINT BASE PEARL HARBOR-HICKAM, Hawaii –
Ebola. It's all over the news, litters our Facebook feeds and has become a common topic of conversation. Healthcare workers from a variety of organizations have mobilized to Africa to help fight the disease, and now, some military members have begun to deploy to Liberia to support those efforts.
But, is there cause to be worried about it in the Pacific?
"There's no need for Pacific Air Forces Airmen and their families to be worried about Ebola at this time," said Col Jeffrey Freeland, Chief, Aerospace Medicine Division at PACAF. "No cases of the disease have been reported in the PACAF area of responsibility, and all outbreaks are being closely monitored by public health teams. However, people should be educated about it as they are about other infectious diseases."
Ebola virus disease, or EVD, is potentially deadly but it can be prevented. Symptoms appear anywhere from two to 21 days after exposure, but typically between eight and 10 days. Symptoms include fever, headache, myalgia, weakness, diarrhea, vomiting, abdominal pain and unexplained hemorrhage. Recovery from Ebola depends on good supportive clinical care and the patient's immune response.
The disease is spread through direct contact, through broken skin or mucous membranes, with blood or body fluids of a person who is sick with Ebola. It can also be spread through direct contact with objects like needles and syringes that have been contaminated with the virus.
"It's important to remember that transmission requires direct contact. It is not spread through the air, by water or in general, food," said Lt. Col. Randall Langsten, PACAF Public Health officer. "You cannot catch Ebola by passing an infected individual in a grocery store or hallway, for example."
According to the PACAF Surgeon General's office, U.S. military members are deploying for command and control, logistics support, training, and engineering - not providing direct care to the local population. Consequently, it is unlikely that any deploying members will contract Ebola. As a precaution, all U.S. military members deployed to affected areas will be screened for 21 days after redeployment to monitor for signs of the disease.
And what if an active case presents itself in the Asia-Pacific Region? PACAF has coordinated with the Department of Defense and the Centers for Disease Control for a rapid and joint response to any occurrence of the virus should DOD assistance be required, according to Freeland.
"We have the capability and expertise to identify potential cases of EVD and mitigate any risks that would arise if a positive diagnosis is made," said Freeland. "Every military treatment facility in PACAF is preparing to quickly prevent any spread of the disease."
More information about EVD is available online from a variety of sources, but the PACAF Surgeon General's office encourages Airmen and their families to get information from trustworthy, reliable sources.
"The internet is full of people who don't understand the disease, but can easily share incorrect information through blogs, videos and social media sites," said Langsten. "We absolutely want our Airmen and their families to be educated about the disease, but we want to make sure they get accurate information from scientific, reputable sources to ensure they are well-informed."