VICENZA, Italy — The first groups of U.S. troops secluded for three weeks after returning from Liberia have not developed any Ebola symptoms and have all been released, officials said.
The last group of 38 soldiers isolated at Caserme Del Din for what the Army calls "controlled monitoring" after deployment to assist in combating the Ebola epidemic in West Africa was allowed to leave Friday. They follow a group of 29 allowed to leave a few days before.
The first group of 11, which included U.S. Army Africa commander Maj. Gen. Darryl Williams, was released last week.
All had been quartered at Del Din, where their temperatures were taken twice daily for 21 days, the outer limit for the virus to become symptomatic in infected people.
So far, the Ebola epidemic in West Africa, which has been concentrated in Guinea and Liberia, has claimed more than 5,000 lives.
"What I can tell you is that out of all of the cohorts, thus far, none of the personnel have shown any symptoms of Ebola," said Kymberley Jurado, a USARAF spokeswoman.
One colonel was taken from seclusion to the local hospital in Vicenza two weeks ago after showing symptoms of a possible heart attack, local Italian newspapers reported. He was then returned to Del Din to finish out his period of seclusion, Jurado said.
None of the troops were expected to have been infected with Ebola, officials said. They had been involved with command and control and logistical work to set up the U.S. military's efforts to build Ebola treatment centers and were not in contact with any Ebola patients.
Another group of 69 military personnel was just beginning its seclusion this week at Ft. Bliss, Texas. Although concerns were raised when one of the troops, an Air Force major, had vomited on the plane from Liberia, he has tested negative for the virus.
"I can tell you that it's an illness other than Ebola, and eminently treatable...," Pentagon press secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby told reporters.
USARAF had not planned on secluding returning troops, following instead the guidelines of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for those at low risk of exposure to the virus, monitoring their temperature as they went about their daily lives.
But Pentagon officials changed course, saying seclusion and monitoring would reassure troops and families.The Pentagon has also taken a conservative approach regarding use of its helicopters, which have been transporting doctors to remote locations. According to a New York Times report, the helicopter crews had been ordered not to carry blood samples back with them, significantly slowing diagnoses. A senior CDC official called that situation "unacceptable," according to the Times.
Kirby told reporters that carrying blood samples would require aircraft decontamination and other steps beyond the scope of their current assignments.
"It's not part of the mission, and there's a resource-allocation component as well as a safety component," he said.
According to the CDC, the number of Ebola cases in Liberia is declining, and the Pentagon said it was scaling back its planned operations.
Officials said that instead of building 17 centers with 100 beds each, there would be 10, of which seven would have 50 beds each.
Currently, about 2,400 servicemembers are deployed to West Africa.