Inside the CDC’s Emergency Operations Center Tackling Ebola

CDC's emergency unit
CDC leaders integral to the Ebola response, including epidemiologists, laboratorians, logistics, and more, assemble in agency’s command center to discuss next steps in directing the response at CDC Emergency operations center in Atlanta, August 8. Spencer Lowell for TIME

With Ebola ravaging West Africa, the CDC’s emergency unit has been called into full-force

Last Friday morning, only a few hours after the World Health Organization officially declared the Ebola outbreak a global public health emergency, the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Emergency Operations Center (EOC) kicked into a hive of activity.

Their recently created battle room of computer screens and realtime maps of Ebola spread is fielding calls from U.S. hospitals, offering logistical support for workers in West Africa, and is continuously updating realtime data on the rising number of Ebola infections.

At 10 o’clock there is a daily meeting to discuss what’s happening, the latest news and the latest plan of action. The meeting spills out of the EOC’s primary conference room and contains the CDC’s heads of infectious disease control as well representatives for the State Department and USAID.

Only a couple of days ago, the CDC activated the EOC to a Level 1 response unit, which is the highest alert level and essentially means everyone with related expertise is called in for their expertise.

CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden, said; “We have been very concerned at CDC for weeks and months about Ebola, and we’ve increased our activation to the highest level to surge on a response in Africa,”. He has recently returned from testifying in front of the House Committee of Foreign Affairs about the agency’s ongoing efforts to stop the drastic spread of the disease. “This Ebola outbreak is unprecedented. The single most important thing to understand about protecting Americans from Ebola is that [it has to be stopped] at the source in Africa.”

Now that, is one very interesting statement. So the whole operation is about protecting Americans? Are you kidding me? If there was no risk of Ebola spreading outside of West Africa then basically it sounds like the CDC and EOC would not even be involved. Clearly American lives are significantly more important than African lives or any other non American for that matter. But hey, what do I know.

Since the first week of April, the CDC has had experts on the ground and encouragingly it recently announced that it’s sending a large team of 50 more highly qualified disease specialists, including diseases detectives, laboratory experts and transmission-data analysts over to West Africa in the next month. However the team of experts will need support from the stateside EOC for resources, data collection and communication.

A large part of the EOC team is made up of Epidemic Intelligence Service (EIS) officers—health professionals who are part of the CDC’s two-year training program for investigating infectious disease.

Kelsey Mirkovic, 29, has just returned from Gueckedou, Guinea is a second-year EIS with a PhD in pharmacology. Her goal was tracking down people who have been in contact with infected patients. “One day there were two deaths of people with Ebola in one village, and 218 people were added to our list of contacts that day,” said Mirkovic. “We are talking about tracking down hundreds of people.”

Since Monday the 4th of August, 6 CDC specialists have been deployed to Guinea, twelve to Liberia, 9 to Sierra Leone, and only 4 to Nigeria, which is the latest country to experience a spread of the virus after the first person died from the virus about 2 weeks ago. It is very worrying as Lagos, Capital of Nigeria is the largest city in Africa. This does not bode well.

Dr Stephen Monroe who is the deputy director of the CDC’s National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases mentioned that “If current trends continue, it won’t be long before there’s more cases associated with this one outbreak than all previously outbreaks of Ebola virus combined,”

“In most of these other countries, the initial event starts in a relatively rural area. So if we can get in quickly and contain it before it spreads, it’s much more effective. If it starts to spread in a large metropolitan area, especially in the very urban slum areas, it will be much more difficult to control.”

It is likely that if there is a major outbreak in Lagos then things will get a lot worse before they finally get control and start controlling the spread of Ebola.

Monroe said that the CDC has experts in placed in Nigeria who are examining ebola cases as well as the people they have been in contact with including people helping local authorities with their exit screenings in order to keep all these people at risk of being infected from travelling and leaving the country and possibly infecting other countries anywhere in the world.

Monroe said that “In order to fully resolve the outbreak, we’re clearly looking at months, not weeks of effort,”

The EOC is also serving as the hub for Ebola containment in the U.S., should the disease present itself there. Very conveniently, the CDC is only a few minutes from Emory University Hospital, where two evacuated Americans with Ebola virus disease are being treated.

The CDC has already distributed care guidelines for U.S. hospitals. There is even a team of experts who handle several calls daily from U.S. hospitals concerning sick patients who have recently returned from visiting Africa.

EOC disease specialists are already on route to West Africa, taking the latest outbreak maps with them as they head into a very scary and dangerous zone. The glow from the wall of computerized data sets and updates fills the room—with large graphs that highlight the early summer spikes in Ebola cases.

The whole Ebola outbreak is really scaling upwards with over 1000 people infected already. If the disease spreads to more countries then things are only go from worse to horrendous. We can only home that containment happens very soon and stops the rapid spread of the disease.

One comment

  1. “The single most important thing to understand about protecting Americans from Ebola is that [it has to be stopped] at the source in Africa.” Don’t forget that he is talking to an audience without passports who think Africa is one country and Ebola is a city where there is some kind of problem.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *