U.S. clinicians get crash course in treating Ebola patients in Africa

ANNISTON, Ala. -- The World Health Organization estimates that more than 200 health care workers have already died from Ebola. As part of the U.S. response, the CDC will train 500 doctors and nurses to treat Ebola patients.

Classes started this week in Anniston, Alabama, and CBS News correspondent Mark Strassmann was there.

At a mock Ebola treatment unit similar to 17 clinics the U.S. is building in West Africa, John Welch, a 33-year-old nurse from Boston, was covered head-to-toe in a protective suit.

"There are a lot of people who need our help," said Welch, who added that he has some concern for his own safety.

"I think you do have to have a small amount of healthy concern because that allows you to follow protocol and follow procedure to the tee every time," he said.

CDC instructor Michael Jhung (R) gives guidance in decontamination protocol to health care workers in preparation for the response to the current Ebola outbreak, during a CDC safety training course in Anniston, Alabama, October 6, 2014. REUTERS

Thirty-six licensed clinicians spent three days practicing triage. They're all headed to West Africa.

"These people are quickly going to realize very fast, they're in for a rough experience," said Dr. Michael Jhung, with the CDC.

Dr. Jhung showed CBS News suits called personal protective equipment or PPE's. Wearing one prevents direct contact with the bodily fluids of sick patients, which is how Ebola spreads.

Jhung said the team is noticing mistakes and pointing them out.

"We're seeing little breaks in the PPE, where we can see skin on the face break through -- that's a breach," he said. "We don't want that to happen."

On Sunday, John Welch will head to Liberia, armed with boots, gowns, masks and gloves. He says his training has prepared him.

"You do the same thing every day, the same way of donning and doffing these PPEs," he said. "So you don't skip a step. By keeping ourselves safe, we can take good care of these patients."

The CDC Ebola training will go on every week until at least January. So far there are no plans to offer the training for medical workers at U.S. facilities.

The Ebola outbreak has triggered huge interest on social media, as evidenced by this Twitter heat map:

  • Mark Strassmann
    Mark Strassmann

    Mark Strassmann has been a CBS News correspondent since January 2001 and is based in the Atlanta bureau.