NEW YORK (AP) — Two American aid workers seriously ill with Ebola are being brought from West Africa for treatment in one of the most tightly sealed isolation units in the U.S., officials said. It will be the first time anyone infected with the disease has been brought into the country.
One was to arrive Saturday in a small private 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.
U.S. officials are confident the patients can be treated without putting the public in any danger.
Ebola, which has no cure, is spread through direct contact with blood or other bodily fluids from an infected person, not through the air. The current outbreak in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone, the largest ever recorded, has sickened more than 1,300 people and killed more than 700 this year.
The two Americans — Dr. Kent Brantly and Nancy Writebol — worked for U.S. missionary groups in Liberia at a hospital that treated Ebola patients. The State Department and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are assisting the groups in their transfer.
The government is working to ensure that any Ebola-related evacuations "are carried out safely, thereby protecting the patient and the American public," State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said in a statement released Friday.
A Department of Defense spokesman said Dobbins Air Reserve Base in Marietta, Georgia, would be used for the transfer.
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 were in serious condition and were still in Liberia on Friday, according to the U.S.-based charity Samaritan's Purse, which is paying for their transfer and medical care.
An Emory emergency medical team in Liberia has evaluated the two aid workers, and deemed both stable enough for the trip to Atlanta, said Emory's Dr. Bruce Ribner. Hospital spokesman Vincent Dollard said the first patient was scheduled to arrive Saturday.
Brantly, 33, works for Samaritan's Purse while Writebol works for another U.S. mission group called SIM. Late last week, Samaritan's Purse officials said Brantly had tested positive for the virus. Shortly after that announcement, Writebol's infection was disclosed.
There is no specific treatment for disease, although Writebol has received an experimental treatment, according to the mission groups.
The two-bed Emory isolation unit opened 12 years ago. It was designed to handle workers from the CDC if they became infected while working on a dangerous, infectious germ.
It is one of about four such units around the country for testing and treating people who may have been exposed to very dangerous viruses, said Dr. Eileen Farnon, a Temple University doctor who formerly worked at the Atlanta-based CDC and led teams investigating past Ebola outbreaks in Africa.
Medical Writer Marilynn Marchione in Milwaukee, National Security Writer Robert Burns in Washington and video journalist Johnny Clark and writer Ray Henry in Atlanta contributed to this report.