(Reuters) – An American aid worker infected with the deadly Ebola virus while in Liberia was flown from West Africa to the United States on Saturday and taken to an Atlanta hospital for treatment in a special isolation unit.
A chartered medical aircraft carrying Dr. Kent Brantly touched down at Dobbins Air Reserve Base in Marietta, Georgia shortly before noon.
Brantly was driven by ambulance, with police escort, to Emory University Hospital in Atlanta where he will be treated in a specially equipped room.
Television news footage showed the ambulance stop outside the hospital, where three people in white biohazard suits stepped gingerly out of the vehicle. Two of them walked into the building, one seeming to lean on the other for support. Hospital officials had no immediate comment.
Brantly works for the North Carolina-based Christian organization Samaritan’s Purse. A second infected member of the group, missionary Nancy Writebol, is due to be brought to the United States on a later flight, as the plane is only equipped to carry one patient at a time.
Brantly and Writebol were helping respond to the worst West African Ebola outbreak on record when they contracted the disease. Since February, more than 700 people in the region have died from the infection.
Despite concern among some in the United States over bringing Ebola patients to the country, health officials have said there is no risk to the public.
The facility at Emory, set up with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is one of only four in the country with the facilities to deal with such cases. It is physically separate from other patient areas, providing a high level of clinical isolation.
TEAM OF DOCTORS ON HAND
“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, said Friday.
Ribner said he hoped the medical support available at Emory could improve the chances of survival for the patients.
The plane used to bring Brantly to the United States was equipped with a plastic isolation tent, a medical bed, intravenous lines and monitoring equipment, according to images provided by the CDC, which called the set-up an Aeromedical Biological Containment System.
Ebola is a hemorrhagic virus that can kill up to 90 percent of those who become infected, and the fatality rate in the current epidemic is about 60 percent.
Brantly is a 33-year-old father of two young children, and Writebol is a 59-year-old mother of two.
CDC spokeswoman Barbara Reynolds said this week that the agency was not aware of any Ebola patient ever being treated in the United States previously. But five people in the past decade have entered the country with either Lassa Fever or Marburg Fever, hemorrhagic fevers similar to Ebola.
The two Americans will be treated primarily by a team of four infectious disease physicians. The patients will be able to see loved ones through a plate glass window and speak to those outside their rooms by phone or intercom.
“There is a little bit of worry,” Jenny Kendrix, 46, said of having the Ebola virus patient brought to the same hospital where her husband is being treated for cancer. “There is worry about it getting out.”
But 52-year-old Ernie Surunis of Columbus, Mississippi, at the hospital for a pharmacy conference, said he was not bothered.
“This is a good hospital. I’m glad (the patients) are coming. We can’t leave them (in Africa) to die. They went over to help other people,” he said.