Two relief workers with Ebola to be evacuated to United States

Dr. Kent Brantly, right, speaks with colleagues at the case management center on the campus of ELWA...

Dr. Kent Brantly, right, speaks with colleagues at the case management center on the campus of ELWA Hospital in Monrovia, Liberia in this undated handout photograph courtesy of Samaritan's Purse. (REUTERS/Samaritan's Purse/Handout via Reuters)

Julie Steenhuysen and Colleen Jenkins, Reuters

, Last Updated: 7:18 PM ET

ATLANTA - Two American aid workers, both seriously ill after being infected with the deadly Ebola virus in Liberia, will be flown to the United States and treated in isolation at an Atlanta hospital, officials said on Friday.

A plane equipped to transport Dr. Kent Brantly and missionary Nancy Writebol can carry only one patient back at a time, and Christian relief group Samaritan's Purse said it did not know who would return first.

Both medical evacuations are due to be completed by early next week, said North Carolina-based Samaritan's Purse, as officials said bringing the stricken aid workers to the United States would not put the American public at risk.

The patients are aid workers from Samaritan's Purse and North Carolina-based missionary group SIM USA who were helping respond to a West Africa Ebola outbreak that is the worst on record. More than 700 people have died from the disease since February.

A plane dispatched to Liberia to bring them back one at a time has landed in the West African nation, and the two aid workers were said to be stable enough for transport, an epidemiologist at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta said.

Brantly, a 33-year-old father of two young children, and Writebol, a 59-year-old mother of two, will each arrive at Dobbins Air Reserve Base outside Atlanta before being transported to a high-security isolation unit at Emory, according to officials at the Pentagon and the hospital.

The facility where the aid workers will be treated, set up with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and one of only four in the country, is physically separate from other patient areas and provides a high level of clinical isolation.

"We have a specially designed unit, which is highly contained. We have highly trained personnel who know how to safely enter the room of a patient who requires this form of isolation," Bruce Ribner, an infectious disease specialist at Emory, told a news conference.

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Once at Emory, the two will be treated by a team of four infectious disease physicians, with possible help from doctors who have been trained in infection control measures.

Doctors will try to maintain blood pressure and support respiration, possibly with a respirator if needed, he said. Patients with Ebola may develop kidney failure and need dialysis.

"But basically we depend on the body's defense system to control the virus. We just have to keep the patient alive long enough in order for the body to control this infection," Ribner said.

He said he hoped the medical support available at Emory could substantially improve the chances of survival from that seen on the ground in West Africa. The hemorrhagic virus can kill up to 90 percent of those infected, and the fatality rate in the current epidemic is about 60 percent.

"We have to be very sensitive to the fact that that's occurring in a healthcare system which does not function at the same level as our healthcare functions," Ribner said.

Dr. Thomas Frieden, director of the CDC, said the federal agency would help ensure there is no risk of the virus spreading as the workers are transported and would then assist Emory in the isolation of the patients.

He also emphasized the virus was not transmissible through casual contact, and expressed hope in an interview on CNN that "irrational fears do not trump our compassion."

"Ebola is a huge risk in Africa," Frieden told CNN. "It's not going to be a huge risk in the U.S."

President Barack Obama said on Friday the United States was "taking the appropriate precautions" and that some participants at an Africa summit next week in Washington would be screened for exposure to the virus.

Samaritan's Purse and SIM also said they were sending 60 other healthy staff and family members home to the United States from Liberia by this weekend.

 

Emory University Hospital in Atlanta said Thursday it would treat one of the aid workers in a high-security isolation unit set up together with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The hospital and relief organizations did not identify which worker would be flown to Atlanta, and it was not clear where the other person would go.

Emory University Hospital said its facility, one of only four such wards in the country, is physically separate from other patient areas and provides a high level of clinical isolation.

A hospital spokeswoman would not answer questions about treatment of the Ebola case ahead of a news conference planned for Friday afternoon.

Ebola poses little risk to the U.S. population, the CDC has said.

"Every precaution is being taken to move the patients safely and securely, to provide critical care en route on a non-commercial aircraft, and to maintain strict isolation upon arrival in the United States," U.S. Department of State deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf said on Friday.


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