CDC director: Ebola is ‘out of control’ in West Africa but can be stopped

As the worst Ebola outbreak in history unfolds in West Africa, The Post's Joel Achenbach explains how the deadly virus wreaks havoc on the human body. (Davin Coburn/The Washington Post)

Tom Frieden, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said Sunday that the Ebola virus is "out of control" in parts of West Africa but it can be contained with certain "tried and true" public health measures.

"The plain truth is that we can stop Ebola," he said on ABC's "This Week." "We know how to control it."

Frieden said the CDC will put 50 staff members on the ground to help contain the outbreak. Ebola, he said, is contracted only when people come into contact with the bodily fluids of infected people or handle the body of someone who died from the disease. Burial practices in the affected countries often involve family members touching the body of an Ebola victim.


An ambulance brings Ebola victim Kent Brantly, right, to Emory University Hospital in Atlanta. Brantly was infected with the Ebola virus in Africa. (WSB-TV Atlanta via Associated Press)

An American doctor suffering from Ebola arrived Saturday in Atlanta, where he will be treated in a special isolation unit at Emory University Hospital. Kent Brantly is the first person to be treated for Ebola in the United States.

Frieden said on NBC's "Meet the Press" that Brantly's condition is "encouraging."

"He seems to be improved from the reports we got earlier," Frieden said.

On NBC, Frieden said Samaritan's Purse, the Christian relief organization Brantly works for, wanted to bring him back to the United States, and public health organizations will work to protect the patient and others to ensure that the disease is not spread.

"The organization that sent him to Africa made the decision to bring him home," Frieden said.

The virus can be transmitted only by people who are showing symptoms; those who may have it but have not gotten sick cannot pass it to others, Frieden said.

"Ebola is such a scary disease because it's so deadly," he said. "The plain fact is we can stop it."

Frieden said it is impossible to say that no one in the United States will contract the disease but again noted that one must come into intimate contact with someone who is sick and infected.

"I don't think it's in the cards that we would have widespread Ebola in this country," he said. 

"We're not going to hermetically seal the borders of the U.S.," Frieden said. "But really the single most important thing we can do to protect Americans is to stop this disease at the source in Africa."

President Obama and White House officials have said that the outbreak will not affect a summit of African leaders slated to take place in Washington this week. Presidents of two of the affected countries, Liberia and Sierra Leone, have indicated that they may not travel to Washington.

"The good news is the experts have said to us you're not contagious unless you're exhibiting symptoms," White House senior adviser Valerie Jarrett said Sunday. "We're confident that the summit will be a huge success, and we'll obviously be taking the precautions that are necessary."

Katie Zezima covers the White House for Post Politics and The Fix.
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Katie Zezima · August 3