An Air Force major who got sick on a flight back from West Africa suffered from food poisoning, not Ebola, according to the Air Force.

The major was being monitored at Fort Bliss, Texas, because he became ill while returning to the U.S. with about 70 other service members, Stars and Stripes first reported Wednesday. He did not have a fever and he had not interacted with Ebola-infected locals.

He has since joined the rest of his comrades in the mandatory 21-day "controlled monitoring regiment" that U.S. service members go through upon returning from West Africa, Pentagon spokesman Rear Adm. John Kirby told reporters Thursday.

The episode shows the abundance of caution that both the Defense Department and individual service members are taking to prevent the spread of Ebola. When an active-duty Marine realized he had been on an Oct. 13 commercial flight with a nurse who was infected with Ebola, he quarantined himself for three weeks.

The Marine returned to his job at Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base Fort Worth on Nov. 5 after showing no signs of Ebola, said Capt. Cheryl Dengler, a spokeswoman for Marine Forces Reserve New Orleans.

All U.S. troops returning from West Africa are required to spend 21 days in quarantine to make sure they do not bring Ebola back to the U.S. or their military bases overseas. Meanwhile, the White House has opposed efforts by states such as New York and New Jersey to quarantine civilians returning from West Africa.

At an Oct. 28 news briefing, White House spokesman Joshua Earnest explained that troops and civilians operate under different sets of rules.

"So to take a more pedestrian example than the medical one that we're talking about, there might be some members of the military who think that the haircut that's required may not be their best, but that's a haircut that they get every couple of weeks because it is in the best interest of their unit and it maintains unit cohesion, and that is a policy of the military, and that obviously is a situation in which application of military policy is not — or is necessarily different than the application of the policy in a civilian context," Earnest said.

Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, has said that the decision to quarantine U.S. troops returning from West Africa was based on science, but he did not say what specific data the service chiefs considered.

"Physics is the science we factored in," Dempsey said at an Oct. 30 news briefing at the Pentagon. "You know, when we do — you know, this is not about small groups of people who are transient. There's protocols for that. It's also not about health care professionals in direct contact with Ebola. There's protocols for that."

But Dr. Daniel Bausch, who has spent years researching Ebola, said he wants to know what physics Dempsey is referring to because the chances of troops infecting other people while Ebola is in its incubation period are "extremely low."

"The data we have is very clear that there has never been any evidence of this virus being transmitted from a person who is in incubation period," said Bausch, an associate professor at Tulane University's department of tropical medicine.

When an Ebola patient begins to vomit, suffer from diarrhea or bleed, they have enough of the virus in their systems to infect other people, he said.

"A person who is in the incubation period and is not sick has very, very little virus — so little in fact that we can't even pick it up on a blood test," Bausch said.

Civilian doctors who treat patients with Ebola undergo a self-monitoring period in which they go to the hospital if they start showing symptoms of the disease, such as a doctor in New York who returned from West Africa after working with Doctors Without Borders, Bausch said.

"That's exactly how the system is designed to work," he said. "It's evidence-based and in fact in that case, it did work. I see no reason why it wouldn't work with the military. Frankly, your ability to monitor those people daily after their potential exposure in the field should be even better than the civilian populations."

In Other News
Load More