By Ferdous Al-Faruque - 08/07/14 03:36 PM EDT
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Thursday said it is confident the United States would not experience an Ebola outbreak.
At an emergency congressional hearing, CDC Director Thomas Frieden assured lawmakers that the nation has the healthcare infrastructure to prevent the spread of the deadly disease that, in a new outbreak, has killed more than 900 people in West Africa.
Frieden said the CDC knows how to stop the disease from reaching the U.S. and that the agency is focused on stopping the outbreak at its source in Africa.
The agency already has 31 CDC officials in the region and is sending another 50 personnel to Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia and Nigeria to help diagnose, treat and track Ebola patients.
“The challenge isn’t really the strategy, the challenge is the implementation of the strategy,” Frieden said.
He said the agency is working with global health partners and local leaders to control the outbreak.
“It’s laborious, it’s hard, and it requires local knowledge,” he said.
More than 1,700 confirmed cases have been recorded in the most recent Ebola outbreak.
Two U.S. citizens with Ebola have traveled to the United States and are under care.
The outbreak has created deep concern, with false reports of other cases.
While the Obama administration has said it would not be turning back flights from West Africa for fear of the disease, the CDC has put in place measures to deny passengers showing symptoms of Ebola from boarding flights to the U.S. and are training customs agents to screen for the disease.
Frieden said the agency thinks the disease might be spreading from contact with bats and people mishandling bush meat that might be contaminated with the Ebola virus. Bush meat is meat from wild animals, such as nonhuman primates and bats.
Subcommittee chairman Chris Smith (R-N.J.) noted a drug called ZMapp used to treat the two American missionaries who were infected with Ebola has shown promise but cautioned, “It is still an experimental drug.”
Frieden said the government is looking to expedite the drug through its review process but also cautioned, “I don’t want to give false hope.” He said the drug is not “easy to use” and may have side effects that have not been detected yet.
President Obama on Wednesday said it was “premature” to try get the drug to patients without fully vetting it and instead empahsized the need to bolster healthcare systems to manage the Ebola outbreak in Africa.