An American physician who fell ill with the deadly Ebola virus while treating others afflicted in West Africa was transferred amid high security Saturday to Emory University Hospital in Atlanta, according to the hospital.
The gray air ambulance carrying Dr. Kent Brantly landed at Dobbins Air Reserve Base outside Atlanta at about 11:30 a.m. EDT and was met by a specially outfitted ambulance, which whisked him to the hospital for treatment in an isolated ward.
Upon arrival at the hospital about 12:30 p.m., a person wearing white, hooded, protective gear helped another individual in protective gear out of the back of the ambulance and through a hospital backdoor, according to live footage of the arrival from WXIA-TV in Atlanta.
The ambulance left and TV news cameras did not capture anyone else exiting the vehicle, though it was unclear whether one of the individuals in protective gear was Brantly.
His dramatic journey was set in motion early this week, when Samaritan’s Purse, the aid agency Brantly was working with in West Africa, asked Emory to receive Brantly and another American aid worker who became infected, Nancy Writebol. His plane left Liberia overnight.
Emory, one of four facilities in the country that have an isolation chamber designed to care for highly contagious, critically ill patients, agreed to care for both the victims.
The hospital said in a statement that it expects Writebol would be transferred to the facility the week of Aug. 3. Writebol was working for SIM, a Christian aid group, when she fell ill.
“We thank God that they are alive and now have access to the best care in the world,” Franklin Graham, president of Samaritan’s Purse, said in a statement Saturday.
Officials have been working to prevent any public fears of Ebola spreading among the U.S. population, and at a news conference Friday, Dr. Bruce Ribner, an infectious disease specialist who oversees Emory’s isolation ward, said the precautions being taken virtually guaranteed there would be no secondary infections from Ebola in this country.
“The bottom line is, we have an inordinate amount of safety associated with this patient,” Ribner said when discussing the arrival of Brantly.
The Ebola outbreak has killed more than 720 people in West Africa and has a mortality rate of at least 60%. There is no cure or vaccine, but doctors at Emory say they are “cautiously optimistic” that with proper care and close monitoring they can successfully treat Brantly and Writebol.
World health officials, meanwhile, have warned that the outbreak is spreading out of control in Africa.
On Friday the top health official with the United Nations pledged to release $100 million in funding to deploy hundreds of medical staffers to fight the virus.
“This outbreak is moving faster than our efforts to control it,” Dr. Margaret Chan, director-general of the World Health Organization, told leaders of four West African countries gathered in Conakry, the capital of Guinea, just north of Liberia. “If the situation continues to deteriorate, the consequences can be catastrophic in terms of lost lives but also severe socioeconomic disruption and a high risk of spread to other countries.”
Despite reassurances that the disease will be controlled on U.S. soil, some Atlantans said they were uncomfortable with the idea of Ebola patients being treated in their hometown.
“That worries me,” said Lisa Jackson as she waited for a bus near the hospital Friday. “They shouldn’t even let them across the border.”
Even those who were more willing to welcome the ailing aid workers expressed some trepidation.
“If this is the only place they can get help, then sure, they should bring them here,” said Greg Hammock. But, he added, “Emory better be on top of their game.”
At the hospital’s isolation ward, patients will be able to see visitors only through a plate-glass window and to speak to them via an intercom system. The hospital room has a telephone as well.
Each patient will be cared for by two nurses as well as infectious disease doctors and other specialists. All medical staffers who treat them will don masks, hoods, gloves and an outer shell over their clothing to protect them from vomit, saliva, mucus and other fluids that can spread the virus.
Patients infected with Ebola experience sudden fever, intense weakness, muscle pain, headaches, vomiting and diarrhea. As the disease progresses, it can cause kidney and liver failure as well as internal bleeding.