Academy prepares for Ebola response exercise

Airmen from the Kentucky Air National Guard’s 123rd Contingency Response Group offload cargo pallets from a C-17 Globemaster III, Oct. 18, 2014, as part of ramp operations at Léopold Sédar Senghor International Airport in Dakar, Senegal, in support of Operation United Assistance. The Airmen are operating an intermediate staging base in Dakar to funnel humanitarian aid and military support cargo into affected areas, working in concert with Soldiers from the U.S. Army’s 689th Rapid Port Opening Element to staff a Joint Task Force-Port Opening as part of the U.S. Agency for International Development-led, whole-of-government effort to respond to the Ebola outbreak. The C-17 is assigned to Travis Air Force Base, Calif. (U.S. Air National Guard photo/Maj. Dale Greer)

Airmen from the Kentucky Air National Guard’s 123rd Contingency Response Group offload cargo pallets from a C-17 Globemaster III, Oct. 18, 2014, as part of ramp operations at Léopold Sédar Senghor International Airport in Dakar, Senegal, in support of Operation United Assistance. The Airmen are operating an intermediate staging base in Dakar to funnel humanitarian aid and military support cargo into affected areas, working in concert with Soldiers from the U.S. Army’s 689th Rapid Port Opening Element to staff a Joint Task Force-Port Opening as part of the U.S. Agency for International Development-led, whole-of-government effort to respond to the Ebola outbreak. The C-17 is assigned to Travis Air Force Base, Calif. (U.S. Air National Guard photo/Maj. Dale Greer)

U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. -- Airmen with the 10th Medical Group are practicing how they would respond to a patient with a possible case of Ebola hemorrhagic fever this week in advance of a multi-agency exercise scheduled for Nov. 5.

The practice will involve how to don and doff personal protective equipment, how to recognize symptoms of possible Ebola infection and how to set up quarantine for a patient suspected of having the disease, said Col. David Geyer, the 10th MDG's chief of aerospace medicine.

"If we find any issues we have to improve upon, we hope we will find them during the exercise," Geyer said. "Because this process is new, we want to do this to make us more comfortable with our processes."

El Paso County Public Health is the lead agency on the Pikes Peak region's response to any possible cases of Ebola. Other agencies involved in the scheduled exercise and overall response include the 21st Medical Group at Peterson Air Force Base, Evans Army Community Hospital at Fort Carson, Memorial Hospital, Penrose Hospital and local first response agencies.

In the event a service member has a suspected case of Ebola, he or she would be transported to Evans Army Community Hospital, Geyer said. If the patient required more significant care, they would be transferred to one of four specialized Defense Department treatment facilities - Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, Md.; Womack Army Hospital, N.C.; Portsmouth Naval Hospital, Va.; or Wright-Patterson Medical Center, Ohio. Civilians with a suspected case would be transported to either Memorial Central or Penrose.

"Those two facilities within Colorado Springs are prepa red to accept suspect cases," Geyer said. "Treatment beyond that would be up to hospitals based on the seriousness of the patient's condition."

The Air Force Academy is not currently slated to deploy any Airmen to support Operation United Assistance, the DOD's effort to battle the spread of Ebola, Geyer said. Approximately 160 Soldiers from Fort Carson's 615th Engineer Company are among 4,000 service members who will deploy to Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea in support of the operation. Soldiers will not return home until they are fully evaluated and cleared of Ebola and other diseases, according to Fort Carson's Public Affairs Office.

Ebola, discovered in 1976, is not an airborne disease. It is spread through direct contact with bodily fluids, such as vomit, saliva, stools or blood, of a patient exhibiting symptoms.

"It is important to remember that Ebola is not easily transmittable," said Dr. Bill Letson, El Paso County Health's medical director. The risk of an Ebola outbreak in the United States remains low, though the risk is somewhat higher for caregivers in close contact with people who are ill with the disease.

The 2014 outbreak has resulted in about 13,500 suspected cases, leaving approximately 5,000 dead, according to the World Health Organization.

More information on Ebola is available through El Paso County Health at www.elpasocountyhealth.org/services/ebola-education and through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention at www.cdc.gov/vhf/ebola/transmission/index.html.