The State Department and hospital officials in Atlanta confirmed Friday that two U.S. citizens who have contracted Ebola in West Africa are being evacuated to Georgia.
Although the State Department did not name the patients, one is thought to be Nancy Writebol, who was doing missionary work in Liberia. Her son, Jeremy Writebol, is the associate pastor of Journey the Way, a church in Wichita’s Delano neighborhood.
He confirmed earlier this week that his mother, 59, had contracted Ebola and was being treated. He said his father, who was working with his mother, has tested negative for the disease, although his condition is being monitored.
Jeremy Writebol could not be reached for comment Friday. He said earlier in the week that he had been in daily contact with his parents, who are volunteers with SIM USA, a Christian aid organization.
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The State Department said Friday it is working with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to carry out the evacuation.
“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 in the United States,” the statement said.
The Pentagon’s press secretary, Navy Rear Adm. John Kirby, said Friday that a private-chartered aircraft would land at Dobbins Air Reserve Base in Atlanta with the patients. He provided no further details.
Bruce Ribner, a physician at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta, said one patient is expected to arrive Saturday, and the other will come in the next few days. The hospital has said it will treat one of the patients in a special containment unit set up in collaboration with the CDC, which is based in Atlanta.
An Emory emergency medical team in Liberia has evaluated the two aid workers and deemed both stable enough for the trip to Atlanta, Ribner said.
The other patient is thought to be Kent Brantly, 33, a doctor from Texas who works with Samaritan’s Purse, a Christian mission group.
The CDC said Thursday it will be the first time an Ebola patient has been treated in the United States.
“We’re here to make sure the transportation process and the care here in the U.S. ensures there’s no spread,” CDC spokeswoman Barbara Reynolds said Friday. “It’s important to remember this is not an airborne virus; it requires close contact with body fluids. It’s minimal risk as long as the people caring for the patient use meticulous procedures.”
She said it was not the agency’s decision to transfer patients to the U.S. SIM USA President Bruce Johnson said it was his organization’s doctors in Liberia who made the decision.
SIM USA spokesman Palmer Holt said that Writebol’s chances of survival may be improved by being transported to the U.S.
“It’s basically Emory University versus a missionary hospital in Africa that just doesn’t have the kind of facilities that they have in the U.S.,” Holt said.
Eileen Farnon, a Temple University doctor who formerly worked at the CDC and has investigated past Ebola outbreaks in Africa, said Emory’s isolation unit is one of about four in the country built to treat people with “very dangerous viruses.”
The aircraft to be used 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.
Nancy Writebol is receiving an experimental drug that doctors hope will “better address her condition,” according to a news release Thursday from SIM USA. She was listed in serious condition on Friday.
There is no vaccine or specific treatment for Ebola; it typically has a fatality rate of 60 to 90 percent. It causes fever, vomiting, diarrhea and massive internal bleeding.
The outbreak in West Africa has killed more than 700 people and sickened 1,300, making it the worst outbreak in history. According to the World Health Organization, 57 people died in the past week in West Africa.
Jeremy Writebol said he got a call from his father last weekend that his mother had tested positive for the disease. He said his parents have been in Africa for more than a decade, serving in different nations. They have been in Liberia for the past year.
Contributing: Associated Press, Bloomberg News, Washington Post.