While the air war against the Islamic State is getting all the attention, President Barack Obama has committed military ground troops to combat another world threat: Ebola. The United States has taken on the mission of helping to stem the viral epidemic spreading wildly in West Africa. Now other nations need to join us.

A non-ideological, equal opportunity killer, Ebola threatens every corner of this highly connected world. It has to be contained until vaccines and treatments now in promising development stages are ready for wide use.

The president ordered about 3,000 American troops to Africa in a largely humanitarian mission to help set up treatment centers with 1,700 beds and train health workers the best ways to combat the deadly virus and to protect themselves. Of course, protection of the troops themselves needs to be paramount.

Other world leaders have remained virtually silent as the Ebola virus has jumped from being a rare disease found almost entirely in jungles and Michael Crichton novels to a rapidly multiplying killer that has found its way into the packed slums of West African cities.

Some consider Obama’s action excessive. After all, so far there are “only” about 3,200 known deaths from this outbreak, while HIV and tuberculosis take nearly 3 million lives each year.

But the truth is that Ebola cases are dramatically underreported, and the current outbreak is not like past epidemics. The horrific disease is spreading at lightning speed, with the number of new cases doubling every two to three weeks. If it continues at that rate — and there is no reason to believe it won’t, if the world doesn’t act — it doesn’t take a math genius to figure out that Ebola will be a full-fledged catastrophe in no time.

The World Health Organization estimates the cost of containment has spiraled from about $490 million as recently as August to well over $1 billion today. On Tuesday the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that without intervention, infections just in Liberia and Sierra Leone could rise to 1.4 million by January.

Many virologists also fear that the longer Ebola is allowed to replicate in humans, the greater the chance it will mutate into a form that is even more highly contagious and difficult to stop. No one knows for sure, but no one with any sense wants to find out, either.

There is urgent need in West Africa for both equipment and training. The health professionals there need proper protective gear. Most of the treatment centers have had poor infection controls and have actually hastened the spread of the disease.

The U.S. military contingent, properly prepared and protected, should be able to help with both of those things. But the rest of the world needs to step up as well.

Editorial by the San Jose Mercury News

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