Ebola Experts Testify Before Senate Panel

Senate hears testimony as the White House announces plan to aid in fight against deadly virus in West Africa.
34:25 | 09/16/14

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Transcript for Ebola Experts Testify Before Senate Panel
Well I'm Michelle Franzen in New York doctor can't Brantley the American Doctor Who contracted Ebola. While working in West Africa then recovering under the care of doctors at Emory university in Atlanta. Is on Capitol Hill today demanding action from lawmakers. And -- you can see here visiting the oval office for a chat with President Obama. The president then set off for Atlanta a writing a little before 2 o'clock in the east. In -- To the Centers for Disease Control where he lay out his plan to -- on to spread of this virus. ABC's Karen Travers joins us now for the latest on the new White House plan Karen. Good afternoon Michelle President Obama has said that Ebola is and national security issue and medical experts are worried that it is deadly virus were to spread it could -- -- everybody around the globe. This announcement today from the White House it marks a major push by the United States to take the lead in this effort to fight a bola. Aggressive new steps by the US in the fight against the Ebola Virus. Today the CDC President Obama will be briefed in the deadly outbreak in West Africa his -- comes as the administration announces operation united assistants. It's -- significantly ramp up American response that includes a new command center in Liberia the center of the outbreak. An American general will be in charge there coordinating the US and international relief efforts. Up to 3000 US military personnel will be on the ground to support this command center that's double the US troops currently in a rock for the ice -- threat. ABC's chief health and medical editor doctor Richard -- was recently on the ground in West Africa. He says -- if that region is unstable. It's dangerous for the US the longer. This virus is out there are circulating the more chance it has to mutate right now it's very hard to pick this up you have to be in direct contact with a patient. But of the virus changes and can spread through the -- -- -- -- is at risk including people in America. The US will also lead efforts to train as many as 500 health care providers per week to help them safely provide care to a bullet patients. But -- concern for medical experts who actually provide the care. -- this outbreak started there were only fifty doctors and all -- Liberia and they're saying they're gonna train 500 health care workers where -- coming from. The Obama administration says that no US military person now will be involved in direct patient care. Michelle they say they will simply be there to help with the training efforts we'll Karen -- -- will be testifying in front of a senate panel in just a few moments what do we expect him to say. He is not expected to hold back -- he says their needs to be a global effort to mobilize against Ebola that everybody needs to come together. And resource is need to be put in place right now to help those in West Africa -- -- -- read -- -- quote from his testimony that we're expecting sometime in the next few minutes. He -- Ebola a fire straight from the pit of hell we cannot fool ourselves in that thinking that the vast note of the Atlantic Ocean can protect people here. Very very strong words and -- Brantley as you said he met with the president earlier today in the Oval Office before President Obama headed down to Atlanta after that visit to the CDC. I would expect he had similar comments to the president. ABC's Karen Travers in Washington. Thank you for join us. And for more on the White House is efforts I want to bring in ABC news chief health and medical editor doctor Richard Dresser. Doctor -- the White House announcing today it will send up to 3000 troops to West Africa is that enough first of all or just to start. Well I think that it is a start but it's a pretty good start when you look at what the efforts were just a couple weeks ago. This is a monumental increase in in resource is 3000 people on the ground. Can do a lot they're they're looking to do a number of things and -- is establish a sense of of order and control. They'll be setting up a command center in Monrovia the capital of Liberia with the general in charge. They'll be -- bring in engineers were going to be setting up treatment senators as many as seventeen treatment senators they could treat a hundred patients in each one of those senators. -- we setting up a training center to train health care providers to work safely in the in those treatment centers. This will will do a lot for an area that -- it has been desperately in need of foreign assistance. And medical professors including you have been calling on western countries acts for a wild do you think that the White House. And this announcement. Is late or right on time. I I think it's it's very late if he if you look at how long this is -- going on if the -- began truly last December. And now we're gearing up to this level it is late. But this outbreak and it fooled everybody in the WHIO as has spoken about this doctor Frieden from the CDC. A bullet has never acted like this it's never spread this long it's tended to burn itself out. This outbreak because of -- occurred in and how quickly got -- cities. Has has exceeded everyone's expectations so there's a lot of catch up being played by the the global community I don't think 3000 people will will be enough. But it's a big start I hope that we see similar kind of outpouring of of assistance from around the globe. President Obama is at the Centers for Disease Control right now what -- Expect the presidency here at these meetings and what do you want him to take away. I think -- hear from from the team that I saw in Liberia that this is out of control that they've never seen an outbreak. On this scale with with the bola that so much needs to be done to get this. Under control. What was so incredibly concerning last week was when the new numbers came out from the World Health Organization the number of cases in Liberia had doubled doubled in one week. That kind of exponential growth is is frightening because if you plot that -- about. It's it -- numbers that. -- -- -- Unfathomable. But when you bring in the kind of force that the US is talking about you can see improvement but there are major gaps. In the president's plan and I'm hoping that he's gonna hear from people who in Atlanta. -- if we don't help address the issue of who's taking care of all these sick people we're not going to be able to turn the in the corner on this. And do you think -- reaction to this outbreak as large. As this has been -- would've been different if it was a western nation. I think -- it's very easy for people in America to view this as something over there something very foreign. Something that while is concerning disturbing is not our business. It really wasn't until Kent -- and Nancy -- people got sick and came back to the United States did we start to see. The kind of attention here that this has had to have warranted. And while that's concerning you take it you take it on on -- face value and Nancy. -- when I saw her she said she and her husband said they hope that this silver lining that comes out of this is that. By then getting of getting sick. Americans -- are viewing this is a problem that concerns us and are starting to to see that we do you have a staking getting this under control. So we -- more medical professionals heading over there but there's still a lack. Of medical professionals in West Africa and these professionals -- the most susceptible also to get. I think that -- US government is gonna have to changed -- their strategy what I heard from the White House today was that. Department of Defense personnel will not be involved in front line medical care. Well if they're not going to be involved in front -- medical care who is they they they told me they're -- -- be recruiting from the region. And beyond -- but if you look at the health care services available in West Africa. And they they are minimal Liberia at the start of this had only fifty doctors. And some of them have died from from this outbreak. This surrounding countries are also dealing with the with a -- and so they're not going to be a source for this. There really aren't the resources in Africa to take this on we're gonna have to play part of several ourselves by. By staffing these senators doing it in the safe way showing that you can take care people safely. If you look at the centers that are run by Doctors Without Borders. It's incredible operation it runs like a machine you don't see a lot of health care workers in those settings getting sick because it's very controlled. The military would have the opportunity has the skills has the logistical expertise. To provide care in a safe manner. I want to ask you also just the latest on the simple virus and how you sink in your medical profession and what you -- been hearing from your colleagues of how this virus is shaping up. This is -- this is incredibly dangerous it's it's it's dangerous because it's it's so deadly. But it's also dangerous because it looks like so many other illnesses that are in the area. You are deal without -- a country that sees a lot of malaria a lot of -- -- fever. Diseases that can also present with fever and body aches. You don't know when you're seeing a patient whether they have one of those diseases which is not easily transmitted person to person or where they have -- a bowl and your life is there risk. What you're seeing in addition to a lack of resources for treating a -- is a lack of resources to treat all the other medical conditions that that. That that people face women in labor are not getting to maternity wards people who have traumatic accidents aren't getting treated. People with -- with pneumonia children with -- -- are not getting treated. This is a disaster that goes way beyond a bola. And it's destabilizing. And -- when the president will be talking about national security. They did there are issues in terms of stability in the region stability in West Africa Liberia and Sierra -- -- -- countries that have recently gone through long civil wars. And something like this an epidemic he can can be. What it takes two to not a government. Out of out of power and that can be very dangerous in this region. And on this Friday the entire country of Sierra Leone will be under quarantine as health workers. An out of volunteers go door to door trying to find those who might be infected is -- -- strategy that is not too extreme at this point. -- what we're hearing about now the White House has been talking about a community based strategy that's not something that's ever been used for a bowl. He approached Ruble has always been bring people into treatment centers get them out of the community. The so that they're not may transmit the disease. They're they're starting to be realization that that may not be possible -- may not be enough treatment senators. And so they're looking at providing protective equipment treatment treatment capabilities that people could use in their home. What concerns me about that is that it's never been tried before and and I would love to see them do it in an isolated area or one region in a country to see does it work. Does it cut down on disease or does it simply keep people in the community longer transmitting -- transmitting infection. -- be very concerning. Still lots of questions very few answers ABC news chief health and medical medical editor doctor Richard -- in New York thanks for joining us. And doctor Anthony -- you from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases is speaking now on the spread of the -- outbreak. At the senate panel let's listen in. I appreciate the opportunity to be able to speak -- today about the role of the national institute. Of allergy and infectious diseases in research addressing Ebola Virus disease I've. Have some handouts that your staff -- put in front of you when it's on the visuals there. The involvement. Of the NIH and and I AID. In the Ebola has really dates back. To the tragic events of 9/11. 2001. Which was followed closely by the anthrax attacks through the mail to letters to United States senators. As well as to members of the press because this led to a broad multi agency. In -- there. To develop will be called bio defends. Against threats not only of deliberate threats but of unexpected. Naturally emerging and re emerging threats. And as you see on the right hand side of this there was an agenda a research agenda. Involving what we called category a agents. They're listed there and if the mid unit to -- there anthrax botulism -- plague smallpox tularemia and on the bottom bullet. You see a category called the viral hemorrhagic fever viruses. Which are Ebola. As well as -- -- the -- and others. And the reason why. These viral hemorrhagic fever viruses. Was so important and so deadly and -- in need of countermeasures. Is that as you mentioned in your introductory remarks as have the other -- is they have a high degree of leave Saudi and -- activity. Unfortunately. The therapy is essentially mostly supportive. Without specific anti viral drugs. Directed against the microbes in question. And as we know of vaccine. For any of these is not available at present. This is an electron micro at. Of the Ebola Virus which is a feel virus given the name because of the -- -- this. Appearance that it has when one looks at it. The NIH is counter measure research and development program. Is ongoing and has been for several years but before he even mentioned that I want to underscore something that doctor bell said. Is that right now two days the best way to contained this epidemic this outbreak. Is -- intensifying. Infection control. Capabilities. What we're seeing now we -- and what we seen for some time. The ability to isolate identify. Contact Trace protect -- health care workers with personal protective equipment. But if we want to be prepared in the durable way. Andrew -- train and live to the hearing -- accident to Robin Robinson. -- so we can work together. Last year the -- -- -- -- put money in the appropriations bill. Forget how much was ten. -- ten million dollars something like that to start expanding -- Would you speak to us and how important is -- these other countries to create their own version of the CDC. So that these outbreaks. Can be. Controlled right from the beginning and worth every country having grown CDC. Yes thank you senator. You make some very important points there are some fundamental. Capabilities. That we at the CDC. Almost take for granted because there's so fundamental that are really absent in many of these countries. Basic laboratory capacity. Rapid response teams some understanding of what it takes to investigate an outbreak. Emergency operations centers where we understand the structure that one needs. In order to control. To identify and control an outbreak. Telecommunication. System some very basic capabilities. And these are capabilities that we agree with you really need their fundamental. And really every country needs these capabilities and in many ways that's what the global -- security agenda is about. You know -- -- an example from another country in Africa by way of contrast. You know -- in the midst now of the largest and extremely challenging Ebola outbreak but we at the CDC have actually been. Investigating and stopping Ebola outbreaks in the other -- East Africa for actually quite a long time. And one of the countries in which we've been working is Uganda. And if you look at the list of Ebola outbreaks of the past you'll see that many of them were in Uganda some of the largest wants involving hundreds of people which of course at that time we thought was a lot. And over the last decade of so we've been working with Uganda with the ministry of health and with the got a virus research institute to build capacities there. They now have a laboratory which allows them to do their own testing and detect. People and other viral hemorrhagic fevers. They have a transportation network which allows them to move specimens around the country and get them to the laboratory. They have rapid response teams that know how do -- find Ebola outbreaks and stop them. And consequently what we've seen in -- but Uganda over the last few years is more outbreaks being detected which is good because -- hope that they're going on. And then their much smaller to the point where -- year or two ago. There was it outbreak in of -- which involved one person they were able to stop -- after one person. And most of these are small clusters which -- stopped quickly. So this is an example of what building the kind of capacity that your talking about and which is of benefit to the country it helps the country. Solve some very fundamental health problems that they have. This is an example of the kind of thing that we think we agree with you really needs to be built in every country. I just hope this congress and the one the fallout won't be here but the one -- Will really take this up. You know we have. Spent. Lots of taxpayers' dollars. In shoring up military operations around the globe so people could defend themselves against insurgencies to defend themselves. And yet on this one aspect we have been woefully inadequate. It's like we expect or she DC to do everything. Well it can do a lot as we've shown. But. We need those other CBC's in those countries -- to think about those is forward -- -- Where people can defend themselves and in turn defend us. From the rapid transmission. Of these viruses. -- thank you very much thank doctor Frieden and all of you down there for your great leadership. I just hope the -- the next. A few years we can see CDC replicated. In countries around -- Thank -- doctor bill. Senator Alexander. Doctor bill. You do in the other witnesses of carefully explained that we know what to do about -- and we demonstrated. That. It can be control. Ever. I can talk to a -- doctor Frieden. Without putting words in your mouse I can tell. You feel like this epidemic this outbreak is is a very very serious. Problem that we ought to. Jump all over -- try to put that into some perspective you said a moment ago that a few hundred. Cases would have been a big outbreak today the official report says you've identified a little less than 5000 cases correct. But it might be higher than that is that right what what are the chances that that's under reporting the number of cases of West Africa. Quite likely senator quite likely -- It's also true that of those cases that you reported half of them were reported in the last three weeks is that correct. More or less yes -- so if they're -- the number word 101000 or 151000 instead of 5000. Perhaps half those cases would have been reported in the last three weeks. Quite possibly so the danger is that the rapid infection why why why why the why such a worry is it that the infection spreads more rapidly is that. The concern we've had many kinds of epidemics -- why why such a -- Outlook about this. Epidemic quiet -- to see these -- -- say it may be the most dangerous epidemic of modern times if it's not control. Yes sir thank you senator. So as you've heard. People actually is not easily transmitted it isn't transmitted through the air and it requires. Direct contacts with body fluids. With. Dead bodies. But. What we're seeing in this outbreak. Is because of right now insufficient capacity. To isolate. Patients with Ebola. We are seeing these train these chains of transmission and you can imagine. As the number of cases grows. The number of contacts for each case that these chains of transmission continue to propagate. And that's how the number of cases is grows. And continues to grow. Faster as the number of cases increase it's really. A matter of arithmetic and it brings me to the point of what is the critical. Issue right now especially in -- the area. But really in all of these countries and that is that we must come up with some ways. To effectively isolate. And and treat Ebola patients right now market -- -- do you have to chase down every infected person or person might be infected. Right now senator certainly at least enough and might -- area. On there are patients that we know about and there are no Ebola treatment units in which to house them. So yes we must do meticulous contact tracing we must -- Dan I identify all the potential cases. Isolate them check their temperatures for every -- for 21 days to make sure that they're not infected. But right now is especially in Liberia the problem that we have is that we don't have. Measures to effectively isolate cases that we do identify and that's right now the limiting factor I would say in Liberia. So the new cases there seemed to appear every. Double and three weeks. And half those infected die. Right now it appears that's -- mortality rate that's -- -- doctor -- you have one question for you right doctor bill pointed out. That. You don't catch a bola. By breathing on someone you view. It's it's bodily fluids usually. When someone is infected and has symptoms right or someone is there. And those two instances are most of the infections. You were quoted recently. As saying it's not likely -- a bowl will change how it's transmitted. But our. Which -- which produces an even more serious set of possibilities are are you. Tracking the virus in this out -- as it affects more and more people to see if in fact it's. Mutating in changing in the -- transmitted so that we're not deceived by that okay that very important. -- -- senator so let me just first answer the question and then I'll tell you what we're doing to make sure on top of this. Right now the Ebola Virus is not transmitted by the respiratory route there has been some discussion that since the virus. Replicate -- line whenever you have an RNA virus. The -- replicate the greatest of the possibility. Of it mutating. News. And most mutations are irrelevant mutations they are not associated with the biological. Changer a biological. Function. So even though you see a lot of mutations. It is unlikely that the it will be a change but there's a possibility that there will be change usually when you have a change in function. It could be it could get a little bit more -- a little bit less virulent the efficiently spread in the way it usually is spread -- less efficient. It is -- and usual situation. Where a mutation would completely change the way a virus is transmitted it's not impossible. But it would be unlikely. So we never take anything that like that lightly. And so we follow it very very carefully and in fact. In direct answer to your first question. We have an arrangement with one of the best. Microbial sequencing groups in the world -- the Broad Institute. In Boston. Dad is getting samples and looking at the evolution of the mutations. To try and make sure that mutations -- not occurring. That would have an important impact on what we call a biological function like transmissible -- And the reason night I made that comment is that I wanted to make -- that people understand. That changing. Transmits ability so that it can be transmitted by the respiratory route is obviously something that could be a frightening thing. And I want to make sure that people understand that we're watching that carefully but that's an unlikely event not an impossible event. Unlikely what is likely. Is that if we don't do what we're doing now in the sense of a major ramping up. Of infection control capabilities including. What we hearing about getting the military heavily involved. With all of the things they bring to the table. It is very likely if we don't stop this epidemic it's just gonna get worse and worse the way. Doctor bell said that's the more likely phenomena so that's the reason. Why we concentrate on getting it under control. So you don't give it the opportunity. To -- anymore a virus that doesn't replicate. Can't mutates so we just put the lid on this that'll be it. Thank you mr. thank you rivals recognize their ranking member Moran next and in order of appearance I have here I have. And senator Warren senator Burr senator Reid senator -- senator -- senator Cochran senator Casey senator johanns. Senator Bennett senator Bozeman and then senator whitehouse senator Pryor and senator after. Should Moran chairman Harkin think you -- Doctor bill thank -- -- -- and a doctor Frieden for the visit we had an Atlanta. A few days back and for their visit I had with doctor -- in my office this week. I then at that point time expression doctor Frieden my request that he expressed gratitude on behalf of reunion all of us in this country for the efforts by the people who work at CDC you were working now globally. -- trying to contain and change lives. We're we're very grateful for what you have undertaken. Let me ask you first to question. Doctor -- she just indicated about the potential responsive use of the military. Is there something that you all can say to the American people that are sure -- them that our military men and women will be safe and secure from a -- look. In the new tasks that they're now being asked to undertake. Thank you senator and and thank you for -- kind words about the CDC. You know -- we already have the CDC. More than a hundred people in the field. And this question of safety and security of our own staff. Any staff or any. Sort of members of the US government or many of our colleagues here their safety and security is really our number one priority. And so we've been actually paying a lot of attention to this issue. Certainly as I say starting with our own staff with making sure that the staff understands. Come. What the situation is like on the ground before they go. Having them understand very clearly what -- the interventions that they need to take making sure they have the right kind of personal protective equipment. That they understand some basic strategies in terms of distancing. And that they know what to look for. Should they start to feel ill. So. I think that the bottom line here is that it is a very dire situation. We are concerned about safety and security. We're taking that very seriously and have taken a lot of steps to do everything that we can to minimize the risk. But. It is a very difficult situation and you know this is something that I worry about certainly every day with my own staff -- -- On the front lines let me expand my expression of gratitude to the private religious. Church organizations health care organizations that are working globally that some some significant risk to themselves. What -- what kind of -- coordination education training do you understand either has taken place in regard to our military. And their preparation for this assignment. I'm senator I don't have any specific information about the preparation of the Department of Defense but I will say. That we -- CDC -- actually this is one of the areas that we've actually been working quite closely. On that being in training. Next week will be -- hosting the course. -- in Anniston Alabama at the FEMA facility there. Which is -- which is a three day safety training for health care worker health care workers -- -- planning to deploy. To work effort nongovernmental organizations. In Liberia Sierra -- -- Guinea. And this is a course that our colleagues at -- sense of Pontiac Doctors Without Borders helped us develop. And the eggs precise purpose is to explicitly. -- -- -- health care workers Varity no supposedly bad infection control. But explicitly teach them about the important principles that they need to know in order to safely care for Ebola patients there's a mock facility there. And as they say where -- hoping to actually have this course. Weekly over the next period of months our first course is actually completely full. -- there's a lot of interest and we think that this kind of training is really pivotal before. Americans deployed to work in -- -- his treatment facilities in the region in order it as. To your point a to make sure that they can care for patients safely. Doctor -- let me -- a broader question. What would you describe the best case scenario. In regard to a -- and it's spread and consequences and the worst case scenario. And what is the different what is the item that makes the worst case scenario does not happen and the best case scenario to occur. The best case scenario is that over the coming months. Were able to effectively isolate and treat. -- -- patients. Were able to effectively Trace all of the contacts make sure they're all followed for 21 days. And were able to do something about safe burial practices so that we don't have bodies in the street and people are able to respectfully bury their dead and not put themselves. At risk and so that. Over a period of the coming months. -- were able to interrupt trains chains of transmission and start to see. This. Increase in case is that senator Alexander was talking about. Bend that curve in the other direction. The worst case scenario is that we continue to see this sort of -- -- rising cases. That we're currently seeing. An important come sort of corollary of that is exportation to other countries. As I mentioned we've already had exportation to Nigeria and Senegal. Rivals say that the situation in Nigeria. Was one that we were extremely concerned about you could imagine. In a country like Nigeria should we have -- people -- get out of control. How incredibly dangerous this would be it was in the enormous effort. In order to get the situation in Nigeria to the point that it is today which is. That while we're not completely out of the woods we do not think that there's -- controlled transmission happening in Nigeria but just for an example this involves. Following up on thousands of contacts hundreds of people on working in the emergency operations center in Lagos and then -- -- court. So one exportation like that it requires -- enormous amount of work. So is this outbreak spirals out of control we can expect many more of these exports patients to other countries. Each one of those as I say requires a huge amount of work. And we have no guarantee that we'll be successful and so you could imagine the outbreak spreading. Outside of the borders of the countries that are currently affected. As certainly part of a worst case scenario. And -- recognized Henry before doing just have one certification. Doctor she should uses non respiratory. Communicable. But -- someone sneezes. On somebody. Mr. chairman there's no evidence with a lot of experience over -- multiple outbreaks including the current outbreak. That respiratory spread occurs. But if it does it's extraordinarily rare -- you'd never say never and biology but. People who have been in situations in which -- particular phenomenon would have been noticed clearly indicate that that's not the case. Senator Reid. And you're listening to a hearing where medical professionals. Doctor can Brantley will also be speaking in front of the senate panel later today you can watch them right here on abcnews.com. And coming up shortly president Obama's statement live from the CDC. You can keep up with this story in real time by downloading the ABC news -- and starring in this story for exclusive updates on the go. For now I'm Michelle Franzen in New York.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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