Two American Ebola Patients Coming Home to U.S. for Treatment

Two Americans infected with the virus will be brought to Atlanta for treatment as the World Health Organization deems the West African outbreak ‘out of control.’

Cellou Binani/AFP/Getty

Both Americans infected with Ebola in West Africa will enter the U.S. for treatment at Emory University in Atlanta, according to a memo released by the State Department on Friday. Meanwhile, in West Africa, doctors are scrambling to contain the outbreak, with the chief of the World Health Organization telling reporters that the response has been “woefully inadequate.”

In a memo from Emory officials to physicians and staff, obtained by The Daily Beast, the victims are said to be arriving in the “next several days.” In absence of specifics, the hospital says it’s “prepared and ready” for the arrival, with a “highly specialized, isolated unit” that it designed with the help of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, headquartered nearby. CNN reported on Thursday night that a specialized medical plane was already en route to Liberia.

Staff at the hospital have reportedly been “highly trained” and are aware of “unique protocols” that will be necessary to treat the patient.

The two arriving patients are believed to be Dr. Kent Brantly and Nancy Writebol, two U.S. charity workers infected in West Africa after treating victims of Ebola. As of Friday afternoon, both remain in “serious condition.” Writebol received an “experimental serum” Thursday afternoon, while Brantly was given a blood transfusion from a 14-year-old boy whom he had earlier treated.

This is the first time any patients infected with the Ebola virus, which can kill up to 90 percent of the people it infects in a matter of days, have been brought to the United States. The disease is spread via bodily fluids, necesitating strict isolation for the patients and thorough decontamination. Health-care workers such as Brantly and Writebol place themselves at great risk to treat Ebola and diseases like it.

In a call with reporters Tuesday, Stephan Monroe, deputy director of the National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases at the CDC, assured listeners that the outbreak posed “little risk” to the United States, adding that the chances of anyone infected arriving undiagnosed were slim. In another call Thursday afternoon, CDC Director Tom Frieden said plans were in place to stop Ebola-infected people from boarding planes in West Africa.

After advising against travel to the affected areas, Frieden said increased caution is warranted. “The bottom line is that Ebola is worsening in West Africa,” he said. The CDC plans to send 50 more staff members to Liberia, Guinea, and Sierra Leone in the next month, adding to the dozen CDC workers who are already there. “It will take many months, and it won’t be easy, but Ebola can be stopped,” said Frieden. “We know what needs to be done.”

WHO Chief Margaret Chan echoed the need for urgency. Speaking with the presidents of Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Ivory Coast in Conakry, Guinea, on Friday morning, she said: “This outbreak is moving faster than our efforts to control it,” according to Reuters. “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.” Chan said the efforts to combat the spread of Ebola must be increased, adding that the meeting should be seen as a “turning point.”

The State Department’s memo urges Americans not to panic. “The safety and security of U.S. citizens is our paramount concern,” reads the announcement. “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 text of the email sent to Emory physicians follows:

This email is sent on behalf Robert Bachman, CEO, EUH; Bill Bornstein, M.D., Ph.D., CQO, CMO, EHC; Ira Horowitz, M.D., CMO, EUH; and Chris Larsen, M.D., D.Phil., Dean, Emory University School of Medicine

Dear Physicians,

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You may hear in the media that Emory University Hospital plans to receive a patient with Ebola virus infection in the next several days. We do not know at this time when the patient will arrive. Please be assured that our hospital is prepared and ready. We have a highly specialized, isolated unit in the hospital that was set up in collaboration with the CDC to treat patients who are exposed to certain serious infectious diseases. This unit is physically separate from other patient areas and has unique equipment and infrastructure that provide an extraordinarily high level of clinical isolation. In fact, Emory University Hospital is one of just four facilities in the entire country with such a specialized unit.

Emory University Hospital 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. For this specially trained staff, these procedures are practiced on a regular basis throughout the year, so we are fully prepared for this type of situation.

We will provide you with any updates as needed.

Thank you for your commitment to the privacy and well-being of our patients.

Bob, Bill, Ira and Chris