Two American medical missionaries diagnosed with the deadly Ebola virus in Liberia could be back in the USA next week for treatment at a special medical isolation unit at Atlanta's Emory University Hospital, the U.S. State Department said Friday.
The State Department did not name the two individuals, saying only that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was facilitating their transfer on a non-commercial flight and would "maintain strict isolation upon arrival in the United States."
One is to arrive Monday in a small jet outfitted with a special, portable tent designed for transporting patients with highly infectious diseases. The second is to arrive a few days later, said doctors at Atlanta's Emory University Hospital, where they will be treated.
The private aircraft based in Atlanta was dispatched to Liberia where the two Americans — Dr. Kent Brantly and Nancy Writebol — worked for U.S. missionary groups.
A Department of Defense spokesman said Dobbins Air Reserve Base in Marietta, Ga., will be used for the aircraft.
The aircraft is a Gulfstream jet fitted with what essentially is a specialized, collapsible clear tent designed to house a single patient and stop any infectious germs from escaping. It was built to transfer CDC employees exposed to contagious diseases for treatment. The CDC said the private jet can only accommodate one patient at a time.
Brantly and Writebol are in serious condition and were still in Liberia on Friday, according to the North Carolina-based charity Samaritan's Purse, which is paying for their evacuation and medical care.
An Emory emergency medical team arrived in Liberia on the chartered jet and evaluated the patients, and deemed both stable enough for the trip to Atlanta, said Emory's Dr. Bruce Ribner.
Aid worker Brantly, 33, of Fort Worth has been working in Liberia for Samaritan's Purse overseeing an Ebola treatment center. Writebol of Charlotte was working at the center on behalf of the faith group Service in Mission.
Emory Hospital has a specially built isolation unit set up in collaboration with the CDC to treat patients exposed to certain serious infectious diseases.
The facility is separate from other patient areas of the hospital and is equipped to provide an extremely high level of clinical isolation. Emory's facility is one of only four of its type in the nation.
At a news conference Friday, Emory officials said patients with Ebola posed no risk to staff or other patients because of the hospital's strict infection-control procedures.
"We don't believe there is any likelihood at all of secondary cases as a result of these patients coming to the United States," said Ribner, an Emory professor in the infectious disease division. "I have no concerns about my personal health or the health of the other health-care workers who will be working in this unit."
After talking to doctors in Africa, Emory officials decided they could provide better supportive care to the Americans infected with Ebola. There are no effective treatments or vaccines — and the death rate in this outbreak is about 60% — so supportive care to treat patients' symptoms is vital. Emory can provide intensive care and has specialists who could care for the patients if they need to be placed on respirators or need kidney dialysis. Ebola often causes kidney and liver failure.
At a news conference Thursday, President Obama said he is taking the Ebola outbreak in Africa seriously. He says the United States is taking precautions for next week's U.S.-African summit in the nation's capital.
He said the CDC is working with international health organizations to provide assistance to the affected countries, adding that this outbreak is more aggressive than in the past.
The CDC issued a travel warning Thursday about Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone in West Africa.
Samaritan's Purse and SIM say they are working to evacuate all but the most essential personnel by this weekend, though the center will remain open.
Margaret Chan, director-general of the World Health Organization, said Friday that more than 60 health-care workers have lost their lives in helping to treat Ebola patients.
The WHO says 729 people have died in the latest outbreak of Ebola in the region.
Sierra Leone has declared a state of emergency, banning public meetings and sending troops door to door to look for new cases and to quarantine the homes of former patients. Liberia has closed its public schools.
In a meeting with the presidents of the three West African countries, Chan said the Ebola outbreak "is moving faster than our efforts to control it."
If the situation continues to deteriorate, Chan said, "the consequences can be catastrophic in terms of lost lives, but also severe socioeconomic disruption and a high risk of spread to other countries."
A U.S. citizen, Patrick Sawyer, died last week after arriving in Lagos, Nigeria, on a flight from Liberia aboard the regional airline Asky. Sawyer, 40, a consultant with the Liberian Ministry of Finance, is survived by a wife and three children in Coon Rapids, Minn.
CDC Director Thomas Frieden said he doubted Ebola could spread in the USA. "That is not in the cards," he said Thursday.
Contributing: Liz Szabo, Associated Press
Following Doug Stanglin on Twitter: @dstanglin