U.S. health officials issued a travel warning Thursday for three West African nations as the death toll soared from an Ebola outbreak, whileÂ Obama administrationÂ officials downplayed the possibility that travelers could bring the virus to a U.S.-Africa summit President Obama will attend inÂ WashingtonÂ next week.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced an advisory against â€œnon-essentialâ€ travel toÂ Liberia,Â GuineaÂ andÂ Sierra Leone, where the deadly disease has claimed the lives of at least 729 people and infected more than 1,300. The last time the federal agency issued such a travel warning was in 2003, during the SARS outbreak in Asia.
â€œEbola is worsening in West Africa,â€ said CDC Director Thomas Frieden. He said the agency is sending 50 additional staff to West Africa to advise countries on controlling the disease.
International health organizations describe the Ebola epidemic as out of control, and say it could take up to six months to suppress. There is no known cure or vaccine for the virus.
The head of the World Health Organization and the leaders of the three West African nations are expected to announce a $100 million response plan and will meet on Friday to launch the initiative.
The crisis causedÂ Sierra LeoneÂ PresidentÂ Ernest Bai KoromaÂ to declare a health emergency and to cancel his trip toÂ WashingtonÂ to attend next weekâ€™s summit, which begins Monday. The leaders ofÂ LiberiaÂ andÂ GuineaÂ also reportedly are canceling their plans to attend the conference.
White House press secretaryÂ Josh EarnestÂ said Mr. Obama has no plans â€œat this pointâ€ to alter or cancel the summit schedule. The White House is billing the conference as the largest gathering of African leaders ever inÂ Washington, including some representatives from the nations where the contagion is spreading.
Mr. EarnestÂ said the CDC has determined there is â€œno significant risk in the United Statesâ€ from the Ebola outbreak.
The U.S. also is considering evacuating two American aid workers diagnosed with Ebola back to the U.S. for treatment.
While theÂ administrationÂ is advising Americans not to travel to West Africa, there are no restrictions against people traveling to the U.S. from the countries where the outbreak is occurring. Rep. Alan Grayson, Florida Democrat, has asked theÂ administrationÂ to restrict travel into the country from anyone who lives or has recently visited the three countries suffering from the breakout.
Mr. Grayson, a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, wants the State Department to ban citizens ofÂ Guinea,Â LiberiaÂ andÂ Sierra LeoneÂ from entering the U.S., including any travelers who have visited those countries in the past 90 days.
A spokeswoman for Mr. Grayson said Thursday that theÂ administrationÂ had not responded to his request.
While officials are downplaying the possibility of the virus arriving in the U.S., others point to the case of Patrick Sawyer, a 40-year-old U.S. citizen who died from Ebola July 25 in Nigeria. Mr. Sawyer had been scheduled to fly to Minneapolis in mid-August to celebrate his daughterâ€™s birthday.
Ebolaâ€™s flu-like symptoms appear abruptly after an incubation period of two to 21 days. Victims, who may experience severe internal and external bleeding, usually die from shock or organ failure within one to two weeks. Ebola spreads in human populations through direct contact with blood and other bodily fluid of an infected person; experts say it cannot be spread by sneezing or coughing.
Mr. EarnestÂ said the CDC is alerting health care workers in the U.S. and reminding them how to isolate and deal with cases of Ebola, although the agency has determined itâ€™s unlikely Ebola would spread if detected in the U.S.
â€œFellow citizens, this is a national fight, and it behooves all of us to stand together to promote the truth about this deadly disease,â€Â Mr. KoromaÂ said. â€œEbola is real, and we must stop its transmission.â€
On Wednesday, the Peace Corps announced it was pulling all 340 volunteers fromÂ Sierra Leone,Â GuineaÂ andÂ LiberiaÂ in response to the outbreak of the highly contagious disease, which kills up to 90 percent of those infected.