“The current outbreak is bad,” Frieden said. “It’s the biggest and most complex, and it’s the first time it’s been present in this region of the world, which means that response systems and community understanding of the disease is not what it should be.”
Though about 10,000 people from the region travel to the U.S. every three to four months, the likelihood of Ebola spreading on American shores is small because of protocols the agency has in place to prevent such a scenario from occurring, Frieden said.
The agency is helping with screening and education efforts on the ground in West Africa to prevent sick travelers from getting on planes. In the event that an infected person does board a plane, the CDC can get notification of ill passengers on a plane before arrival, investigate ill travelers, and, if necessary, quarantine them. CDC also provides guidance to airlines on how to manage ill passengers and crew, as well as for disinfecting aircraft.
Freiden said the CDC was working with the three countries in an effort to contain the outbreak. As many as 50 agency staff workers were going to the region over the next 30 days to help local and international health professionals track the epidemic by assisting with identifying and isolating those infected.
The current Ebola outbreak is the worst on record, which Frieden said has had a devastating impact on local health workers. Many have contracted the disease and have died in their efforts to treat the sick.
“Tragically, they’ve (the affected countries) experienced a loss of many of their health leaders and doctors who’ve worked in this outbreak,” Frieden said.
Efforts to contain the disease would be slow, Frieden said, as aid workers face such obstacles as issues within the healthcare infrastructure within the countries, such as many lacking the capacity to provide care in more rural areas. Another concern has been reported incidents of violence against responding health workers.
“We at CDC are surging our response along with others,” Freiden said. “And though it will not be quick and it will not be easy, we do know how to stop Ebola.”
The World Health Organization estimates that as of July 27, a total of 1,323 cases of Ebola have been confirmed across four countries, including Sierra Leone, Guinea, Liberia and Nigeria, resulting in 729 deaths.
Follow Steven Ross Johnson on Twitter: @MHsjohnson