General: Island Vacation Season Spawns Ebola Fears

Health workers wearing protective gear wait to carry the body of a person suspected to have died from Ebola, in Monrovia, Liberia, Monday Oct. 13, 2014. (AP Photo/Abbas Dulleh)

AREQUIPA, Peru — The coming winter vacation season is raising worries about the potential for Ebola cases in Caribbean and Central American countries, the top U.S. military commander in South America says, noting that smaller countries may be less equipped to deal with the problem.

Gen. John Kelly, head of U.S. Southern Command, told The Associated Press on Monday that leaders from the Caribbean and Central American countries are voicing concerns because many vacationers will be traveling to and from the islands, often without going through airport screenings the U.S. is putting in place. He said small nations such as Haiti would have a difficult time coping with an Ebola outbreak.

Kelly said he has sent a military planner and a medical expert to Germany to work with Africa Command officials in order to better prepare Southern Command if Ebola cases start to surface.

At the same time, he said Southern Command is conducting simulations on the issue in order to make sure the military is prepared if a country begins to see Ebola cases. He said he has asked for modeling data on how the virus might spread.

"There is no fear mongering here. It's part of my job to anticipate that kind of thing," Kelly said during a short break at the conference of defense ministers from the Americas. "A lot of countries don't have really capable preventive medicine. ... It's not that they don't have any medical capabilities, it's that they don't have a lot."

Kelly said the issue has come up a number of times during meetings on the sidelines of the conference with other military leaders from the Caribbean and Central America.

Pointing to recent problems with parents sending their children across the Mexican border into the U.S. in order to escape gang violence in Central American countries, Kelly said frightened families could similarly try to flee to America to seek treatment or get away from any Ebola threat.

The U.S. is encouraging the nations to stay in communications with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other health care organizations. But Kelly also said he is telling military leaders that the U.S. will help the countries if problems arise.

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