"It is spiraling out of control, it's getting worse, it's spreading exponentially," he said. "If the outbreak is not stopped now we could be looking at hundreds of thousands of people infected."
The president said there were "profound implications" for the U.S., even if there was no immediate threat of an outbreak on American soil.
Obama said he has ordered the deployment of 3,000 U.S. military personnel to West Africa to take the lead in coordinating an international response, facilitate logistics and engineering.
In the next few weeks, U.S. service members will establish 17 treatment facilities with 100 beds each, train as many as 500 health care workers per week in proper care and containment techniques, and orchestrate a community messaging campaign about the disease, the White House said.
U.S. personnel will not directly provide care to infected patients in the general population, officials said.
Before visiting the CDC, Obama met at the White House with American doctor and Ebola survivor Kent Brantly, who was flown out of Liberia with government assistance, treated with an experimental serum at Emory University Hospital and recovered.
"He looks great, he looks strong, and we're incredibly grateful to him and his family for the service he rendered," Obama said of the meeting.
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