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On Wednesday, Oct. 22, two town hall meetings, a morning and an afternoon meeting, took place to address concerns surrounding the return of Soldiers and Civilians from the Operation United Assistance mission, a humanitarian action to help stem an Ebola virus outbreak in West Africa. More than 500 people attended the two meetings that outlined the USARAF personnel return. The afternoon meeting featured Italian translation for local national employees. (U.S. Army Africa photos and photo illustrations)

     
 

Town Hall details protocols for USARAF personnel returning from Liberia

Rich Bartell, U.S. Army Africa Public Affairs

VICENZA, Italy – With the pending hand-off of Operation United Assistance from U.S. Army Africa to the 101st Airborne Division, several USARAF personnel are slated to return from Liberia. OUA is a humanitarian mission to assist Liberia and other West African nations stem an Ebola outbreak.

On Wednesday, Oct. 22, two town hall meetings, a morning and an afternoon meeting, took place to address concerns surrounding the return of Soldiers and Civilians from the OUA mission. More than 500 people attended the two meetings that outlined the USARAF personnel return. The afternoon meeting featured Italian translation for local national employees.

Col. Pedro G. Almeida, USARAF chief of staff, explained the gravity of the Ebola outbreak and its relationship to people returning from OUA mission in West Africa.

“Ebola is very hard to get. It is not an easy virus to spread. That is the foundation of the information that I want to pass on to you,” Almeida said.

He said USARAF personnel who are returning from Liberia are at very low risk of having or passing on Ebola and the measures taken to ensure the transmissions risk remains very low. He said that none of USARAF’s personnel have had direct contact with Ebola patients and none have displayed any symptoms of the Ebola virus.

“Your Soldiers from Vicenza are at extremely low risk of contracting Ebola. I cannot say this enough. Extremely, extremely, extremely low risk,” Almeida said. “We have taken significant steps to control it.”

Almeida said the protective measures for stopping the spread of Ebola that USARAF has put into motion exceeds those of both the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and the World Health Organization.

  • Currently, in Liberia, all personnel:
  • -- Have temperature monitored at least twice daily
  • -- Use bleach and alcohol to sanitize hands and feet
  • -- DO NOT HAVE any contact with Ebola patients
  • Twelve hours before departure:
  • -- All personnel will have a thorough medical evaluation
  • Upon arrival in Italy:
  • -- Another medical evaluation and health assessment
  • -- Undergo a temperature and symptoms check
  • First 21 days in Italy:
  • -- Unit will monitor each soldier’s temperature twice daily
  • -- Travel limited to local to enable monitoring
  • Dr. (Col.) Robert C. McKenzie, deputy commander of Clinical Services, Vicenza Medical Clinic, said the returning USARAF personnel will be symptom free.

    “This has been a very low risk mission, as none of our Soldiers or Civilians have come in contact with Ebola victims,” McKenzie said. “They will have multiple medical checks and screens. That’s going to ensure that no high-risk patient will return to our area or patients with symptoms will return to our area. The Soldiers and Civilians returning to Vicenza are a healthy population.”

    McKenzie said that some of people returning from Liberia may exhibit symptoms of the flu, Malaria or gastro-intestinal illness. He said these symptoms are similar to those of the Ebola virus. He said they will be monitoring for these symptoms as well.

    “It is flu season. Tens of thousands of people in the U.S. get this every year and many die from it. It’s an airborne illness It could be transmitted by someone coughing in this theater. You can breathe it in and contract it. Ebola is very different. It requires direct contact with an ill person’s bodily fluids or secretions,” McKenzie said.

    “It’s easy to get confused and say if someone has a fever and they just returned from West Africa, they just may have Ebola,” McKenzie said. “It’s a much higher probability that they have something other than Ebola. It is the flu season. A lot of these symptoms overlap with other known illnesses.”

    McKenzie said returning USARAF personnel are slated for medical screening for 21 after their return to ensure they don’t have the Ebola virus.

    According to McKenzie, if, during this 21-day period, any of the returning people exhibit Ebola-like symptoms, they will be in touch with dedicated doctor who will determine if there is a need to take further action in case they are Ebola virus positive.

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