Marines helping with Ebola outbreak in Liberia

A contingent of Marines is helping Liberian forces combat the Ebola virus outbreak in West Africa, according to the U.S. Marine Corps.

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About 25 Marines are currently working with the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL) in the search for sites to build Ebola treatment units.

The Marines will also help the Liberian forces' engineers, as they build the units, which will be built near hospitals treating those infected and responding to the crisis.

The epidemic, which began in December in Guinea, has spread to Liberia, Sierra Leone, Nigeria and Senegal.

Separately, President Obama has ordered 3,000 U.S. military personnel to West Africa to build treatment and isolation facilities, train healthcare workers and provide other logistical support.

U.S. officials say troops will not be providing direct care for Ebola patients.

Nearly 5,000 people have been infected with the virus, which has a 50 percent to 70 percent fatality rate. The World Health Organization estimates that number could rise to more than 20,000, according to The Associated Press. At least 2,400 people have died, most of them in Liberia.

It is the largest outbreak since the discovery of the virus in 1976, with more cases than all previous outbreaks combined.

The Marines have led a joint force from U.S. Africa Command, and have partnered with the Liberian and other West African forces in an effort known as Operation Onward Liberty since 2009, according to a Marine Corps statement on Thursday.

"The AFL has steadily grown in both capability and professionalism over the past five years," said U.S. Marine Col. David S. Bunn, the officer in charge of Operation Onward Liberty in the statement.