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 two will be treated at Emory University Hospital primarily by a team of four infectious disease physicians. They will be able to see loved ones through a plate glass window and speak to those outside their rooms by phone or intercom.
The patients are aid workers from Samaritan's Purse and 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 Emory University Hospital epidemiologist said.
The facility at Emory, 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.
Doctors will try to maintain blood pressure and support their breathing, with a respirator if needed, or provide dialysis if they experience kidney failure, as some Ebola patients do, Ribner said.
"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," he said.
SEEKING TO IMPROVE SURVIVAL CHANCES
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 Emory, officials at the Pentagon and the hospital said.
ABC News reported that the first of the two patients would arrive on Saturday, although Reuters could not immediately confirm that.
Ribner said he hoped the medical support available at Emory could 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 emphasized Ebola was not transmissible through casual contact. He also expressed hope to 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."
Yet even as officials tried to reassure the public, some on Twitter greeted the news that American Ebola patients would return to the United States with alarm.
"Stop the EBOLA patients from entering the U.S. Treat them, at the highest level, over there. THE UNITED STATES HAS ENOUGH PROBLEMS!" billionaire businessman Donald Trump tweeted.
President Barack Obama said 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 said they were sending 60 healthy U.S. staff and family members home from Liberia by this weekend.
An outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus in West Africa is out of control but can be stopped with more resources and tougher measures, World Health Organization (WHO) chief Margaret Chan said on Friday.
The outbreak is the worst since the disease was discovered in the mid-1970s, with 729 deaths in four different countries.
"This outbreak is moving faster than our efforts to control it," Chan told the presidents of Guinea,Liberia and Sierra Leone at an emergency meeting in Guinea's capital Conakry.
"If the situation continues to deteriorate, the consequences can be catastrophic in terms of lost lives but also severe socio-economic disruption and a high risk of spread to other countries," she said, according to a WHO transcript.
But the outbreak could be stopped and the general public was not at high risk of infection, she said.
Governments might need to impose restrictions on population movements and public gatherings, and to use police and civil defense forces to guarantee the safety and security of response teams, she said.
With healthcare systems struggling to cope, more than 60 medical workers have lost their lives, hampering efforts to tackle the disease.
Two Americans working for aid group Samaritan's Purse who contracted the disease in Liberia were in a serious condition and would be medically evacuated by early next week, the organization said.
Liberia has put in place measures including closing all schools and some government departments as well as possibly quarantining affected communities. Sierra Leone declared a state of emergency and called in troops to isolate Ebola victims.
However, the leader of Guinea's Ebola task force said his country would not be following these moves.
"Some measures taken by our neighbors could make the fight against Ebola even harder,"Aboubacar Sidiki Diakit told Reuters, citing in particular the closure of schools.
"When children are not supervised, they can go anywhere and make the problem worse."
The outbreak has prompted some international organizations to withdraw. The U.S. Peace Corps has said it was withdrawing 340 volunteers from Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea. Samaritans Purse said on Friday it would complete the evacuation of its 60 international staff from Liberia over the weekend and WaterAid said on Friday it was suspending its operations there as well.
The WHO is launching a $100 million response plan and the United States is providing material and technical support to the three countries. Further assistance will be discussed at a meeting in Washington next week.
Chan said she was taking personal responsibility for coordinating international response efforts and mobilizing the vast support needed to fight the virus.
The WHO has convened an Emergency Committee on Aug 6-7 to decide if the outbreak constitutes a public health emergency of international concern and to recommend measures to tackle it.
"The demands created by Ebola in West Africa outstrip your capacities to respond," Chan said.
Chan said cultural practices such as traditional burials and deep-seated beliefs were a significant cause of the spread and a barrier to containment and needed to change.
Several health workers have been attacked and families often prefer to hide victims of the disease rather than take them to clinics.
On Friday, the government of southeastern Nigeria's Anambra state quarantined a mortuary where the body of a Nigerian man who died in Liberia had been deposited a day earlier. They also quarantined anyone who had made contact with it.
"We are conducting pathological tests on cause of death," Anambra state government secretary Oseloka Obaze told Reuters.
The hemorrhagic virus can kill up to 90 percent of those infected, though the fatality rate in this epidemic is about 60 percent. In the final stages, its symptoms include external bleeding, internal bleeding, vomiting and diarrhea - at which point Ebola becomes highly contagious.
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