American with Ebola lands in U.S.
By: Susan Levine
August 1, 2014 12:32 PM EDT
The American physician stricken with Ebola disease while helping to fight the severe West Africa outbreak returned to the United States on Saturday by special air ambulance.
The charter plane carrying 33-year-old Kent Brantly from Liberia landed at Dobbins Air Reserve Base just outside Atlanta in late morning, and he was transferred to Emory University Hospital about 12:30 p.m. Video from television news helicopters there showed him clad head to toe in a white protective suit as he walked with assistance into the hospital.
Brantly is one of two American health care workers to fall ill in Liberia; the other, Nancy Writebol, is expected to be flown to Atlanta early next week. Both will be cared for at the Emory hospital, which has a specialized isolation unit.
“Physicians, nurses and staff are highly trained in the specific and unique protocols and procedures necessary to treat and care for this type of patient,” the hospital stressed in a statement Saturday. “The standard, rigorous infection control procedures used at Emory protect the patient, Emory health care workers, and the general public. … Ebola does not pose a significant risk to the U.S. public.”
Given escalating concerns here about the deadly disease — for which there is no treatment or vaccine — government officials also have emphasized the steps being taken to ensure the public’s safety.
“Every precaution is being taken to move the patients safely and securely, to provide critical care en route on a non-commercial aircraft and to maintain strict isolation upon arrival,” State Department spokesperson Marie Harf said in a statement Friday.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention aid the evacuation decision and arrangements were made by the organization Samaritan’s Purse — the U.S.-based charity with which Brantly and Writebol were working — and that the agency’s role “is to ensure that travel and hospitalization is done to minimize risk of spread of infection.”
CDC Director Thomas Frieden took to Twitter on Saturday to again note that Ebola is only spread by infected patients who have become sick. People who have been exposed to Ebola but show no symptoms cannot transmit it to others.
“The problem isn’t that #Ebola is highly infectious - it’s not,” Frieden tweeted. “It’s that the stakes are so high. Meticulous procedures prevent spread.”
Emory’s two-bed isolation unit, one of just several in the country, was set up in collaboration with the CDC to treat individuals who are exposed to infectious diseases while traveling abroad. It is located on a separate floor from other patient areas and has multiple layers of alarmed doors and a negative-pressure air handling system — which a 2007 article in the Emory Health Sciences magazine termed “state-of-the-art pathogen-containment capacity.”
Officials said Friday that there are no plans for the hospital to receive additional patients with Ebola.
Americans’ increasing attention to the outbreak in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone — where more than 1,300 cases, with more than 700 deaths, have occurred since March — comes just before President Barack Obama convenes an Africa Leaders Summit next week with dozens of heads of state and senior leaders.
Obama addressed the Ebola epidemic at the end of a news briefing, saying it is “something that we take very seriously.” Summit participants from the affected countries who have “a marginal risk or infinitesimal risk” of having been exposed may be screenedfor any symptoms of the disease before they fly to Washington, he said. There also may be some screening at airports here as officials feel is appropriate, he added.
The event may now also include a meeting between HHS Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell, CDC officials and members of the delegations from Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone. And the outbreak will be the subject of an emergency hearing on Thursday by the House Committee on Foreign Affairs’ Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights and International Organizations.
The head of the World Health Organization, who warned Friday that the epidemic “is moving faster than our efforts to control it,” is urging that the situation in West Africa receive “urgent priority” globally.
Director-General Margaret Chan said there would be “catastrophic” consequences should medical efforts in those countries continue to lose ground. Meeting in Guinea with the presidents of the three nations, she cited increasing mortality, “severe socioeconomic disruption and a high risk of spread to other countries” as the looming risks.
Chan announced a new joint response plan on Ebola, which a WHO release said would be the U.S. equivalent of $100 million. She also said the organization will convene an emergency committee next week to consider the international implications of the outbreak.