About 100 Fort Campbell started training Thursday in preparation for their upcoming mission to Liberia, in which they will be tasked with helping contain the Ebola outbreak in West Africa.
Members of the U.S. Army Medical and Research Institute of Infectious Diseases provided a wide range of instruction, from the types of diseases in West Africa and how to avoid them to the proper way to put on and take off a hazardous material suit.
“The reason we are here — the reason we are doing this training — is to help you identify the hazards that you are about to face,” said Andrea Glick of USAMRIID’s Center for Aerobiological Sciences. “We are also here to educate you to not only identify those hazards but to mitigate the risk effectively, make the right choices.”
The first hour of the session was dedicated to Liberia’s indigenous diseases, such as malaria, Lassa fever and others that are mostly associated with mosquitos or vermin.
Capt. J. Tyler Mark told the soldiers that Liberia is classified with the Centers for Disease Control as “a highest-risk country.”
“What that means is that you guys are going to assume that everything that is not wearing this uniform and not having two legs is trying to kill you,” he said. “The snakes are bad. The animals are bad. The insects are bad. Don’t mess with them.”
Mark told the soldiers to be prepared for a much different experience than what they came to know in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“The environment you’re going into is drastically different,” he said. “The stuff there that can kill you is much worse.”
Mark emphasized that Ebola is transmitted through bodily fluids and is not an airborne virus. He advised the soldiers to see a doctor if they have a fever or diarrhea, the first symptoms of Ebola.
“Chances are, it’s not going to be Ebola,” he said. “The chances of one of you getting Ebola are extremely remote. But Ebola is only transmittable when the symptoms show up. So, if you get those symptoms, you need to go to the doctor, and he can verify that you don’t have it so you don’t contaminate your battle buddy or the people that you work with.”
He told the soldiers that almost all of the water in Liberia is contaminated, and advised them to drink bottled water and to shower with water that’s provided. He advised them not to eat from local cuisine because the Liberians are washing their pans and dishes in contaminated water.
The second part of the session dealt with how to properly put on and take off a hazardous materials suit to avoid being contaminated when working around Ebola.
Glick spoke at length about how to put on the many layers of the suit to avoid contamination. She recommended that soldiers wear at least two sets of gloves, with one inside the suit and at least one more outside the suit.
Interior gloves are secured with a tape similar to duct tape with tabs. Glick said, if the special tape is not available, duct tape will suffice. The suit is then put on over the interior gloves, with the sleeves secured to the hand by thumb loops. Exterior gloves are pulled down over the sleeves of the suit to facilitate changing them if necessary.
The full-body suit is zippered up the middle. It comes with gloves and a head mask that is connected to an air filter that runs on an exterior battery. Glick advised soldiers to touch “clean to clean and dirty to dirty,” but don’t touch the clean interior of the suit with gloves that could be contaminated. He also told the troops not to use clean fingers on the outside of the gloves when trying to remove them, preventing cross-contamination.
Glick told the soldiers that Ebola can be transmitted through articles that have become contaminated, and that soldiers can avoid the risk by wearing the proper equipment and avoiding contact with people who might be infected, as the disease is transmitted through bodily fluids, including sweat.
If someone’s sweat finds its way into an open wound of another person, that person could become infected.
“I understand you don’t want to be rude,” she said. “Do not shake hands. Do not make physical contact.”
After the information sessions, soldiers put their new knowledge to use, putting on the different parts of the hazardous material suits. Body suits alone were placed at one station, while other stations had soldiers putting the suits on with gloves and masks.
USAMRIID has been working in West Africa since 2006, when it began a collaborative project to develop and refine diagnostic tests for the Lassa fever in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea.
The Fort Campbell soldiers going to Liberia will have a colors casing ceremony at 3 p.m. Tuesday at McAuliffe Hall.
By Edos News