Two American aid workers infected with the Ebola virus in Africa will be flown by a specially fitted medical evacuation plane to Atlanta, perhaps as early as today, for treatment at Emory University Hospital, officials said Friday.
The jet based in Atlanta has been dispatched to Liberia to pick up Dr. Kent Brantly, a former JPS Hospital resident in Fort Worth, and Nancy Writebol of Charlotte, N.C., a hospital hygienist. Both work for North Carolina-based Samaritan’s Purse, a Christian relief organization.
The jet can carry only one patient at a time. It is outfitted with a special, portable tent designed for transporting patients with highly infectious diseases, officials said.
The Pentagon’s press secretary, Navy Rear Adm. John Kirby, said Friday that the aircraft will land at Dobbins Air Reserve Base in Cobb County, Ga., and the patient will be transported by a special ground ambulance to the Emory hospital.
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Dr. Bruce Ribner, the infectious disease specialist at Emory who will be treating them, said he had no personal safety concerns.
But it will be the first known time that a human ill with Ebola has been in the Americas, and the plan to bring them to Atlanta has sparked concern, and in some cases outrage, among area residents, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.
They will be treated in a special isolation unit built by Emory in collaboration with the Centers for Disease Control.
That doesn’t make Atlanta resident Mercy Wright feel any better, especially considering the recent safety lapses at the CDC in handling anthrax and a dangerous strain of flu.
“This is supposed to make us feel better?” Wright said. “The CDC, which already is mismanaging its supplies of dangerous diseases, is now entrusted with the most dangerous virus of them all?”
Dr. Ford Vox, who works with brain injuries, not infectious diseases, but has ties to Emory, said: “As a medical professional, I don’t have confidence in any hospital — even a unit run in collaboration with the CDC such as Emory’s — as having absolute safety.”
And a jittery response on social media Friday highlighted the special terror that the virus has come to carry for Americans familiar with movies such as Outbreak and the best-selling Richard Preston book The Hot Zone.
For example, there was a much-publicized tweet Friday from Donald Trump: “Stop the EBOLA patients from entering the U.S. Treat them, at the highest level, over there. THE UNITED STATES HAS ENOUGH PROBLEMS!”
Best chance of survival
Ribner, CDC officials and other infectious disease experts say there is little risk to the public of bringing the Ebola patients to Atlanta. In fact, there is nothing about Ebola that necessarily requires the use of such a specialized treatment unit like the one at Emory, said Barbara Reynolds, a CDC spokeswoman, in an interview with the Journal-Constitution Friday.
“Ebola is a viral disease that is not transmitted from person to person through the air,” Reynolds said. “We have other diseases that can be quite frightening and deadly that do transfer through the air.”
Both Brantly and Writebol remained in serious condition Friday at a Monrovia, Liberia, hospital, according to the Samaritan’s Purse website.
Officials said that evacuating them to a U.S. facility is their best chance for survival.
While there is no cure for Ebola, improving the patients’ level of care may markedly improve their chances, Ribner said.
“The body has to be given a chance to live long enough to kill the virus,” Ribner said.
The survival rate for the current Ebola outbreak has been around 40 percent.
“We are grateful that Kent Brantly and Nancy Writebol made it through the night,” Samaritan’s Purse President Franklin Graham said in the news release. “They remain in serious condition. The medical evacuations could be complete early in the week.”
Star-Telegram staff writers Lee Williams and Bill Hanna contributed to this report, which includes material from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and The Washington Post.