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CDC director testifies before Congress on Ebola, opposes suggested travel ban

Tom Frieden, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, testified Thursday before a House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations regarding health officials' responsiveness to the Ebola outbreak.

By JC Finley
CDC director testifies before Congress on Ebola, opposes suggested travel ban
CDC Director Tom Frieden, pictured on Oct. 14, testified before a congressional panel on U.S. health officials' responsiveness to the Ebola outbreak on Oct. 16, 2014 in Washington, D.C. (UPI/David Tulis) | License Photo

WASHINGTON, Oct. 16 (UPI) -- Health officials testified before the U.S. House of Representatives Thursday regarding their response to the deadly Ebola virus.

Testifying before the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director Tom Frieden reiterated his belief that "Ebola is not a significant public health threat to the United States" while acknowledging that "Many challenges remain."

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"It is not transmitted easily, and it does not spread from people who are not ill, and cultural norms that contribute to the spread of the disease in Africa -- such as burial customs and inadequate public health measures -- are not a factor in the United States.

"We know Ebola can be stopped with rapid diagnosis, appropriate triage, and meticulous infection-control practices in American hospitals. And the United States is leading the international effort to stop it as the source in Africa. CDC is committing significant resources both on the ground in West Africa and through our Emergency Operations Center here at home."

Frieden outlined a number of steps that have been taken both in the U.S. and in the affected West African countries to find active cases, respond appropriately and prevent future cases.

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Some in Congress, including House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) and Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) favor instituting a travel ban on the Ebola-affected countries in West Africa, namely Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, a proposal the CDC director opposes.

Frieden cautioned that such a ban would make it more difficult for health officials to monitor travelers from those countries. A ban, he explained, would force potentially infected people to fly indirectly into the U.S., possibly from countries that don't screen for high temperatures indicative of the virus.

Five U.S. airports recently introduced enhanced entry screening to test travelers from Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone for symptoms of Ebola.

His testimony comes a day after a second healthcare worker who cared for an Ebola patient in Dallas tested positive for the virus.

Frieden admitted "we do not yet know exactly how" the two health care workers in Dallas became infected but the CDC director said the incidents "demonstrate the need to strengthen the procedures for infection-control protocols which allowed for exposure to the virus."

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Daniel Varga, the chief clinical officer of the healthcare system that oversees Texas Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas where the Ebola patient died, apologized in his testimony for the hospital's "mistakes."

"We did not correctly diagnose his symptoms as those of Ebola," Varga told the subcommittee, adding "We are deeply sorry."

"It's not a drill," subcommittee member Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI) said in his remarks at Thursday's hearing. "People's lives are at stake and the response so far has been unacceptable."

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