Two American aid workers seriously ill with Ebola are being brought from West Africa to one of the most tightly sealed isolation units in the US, officials say.
It will be the first time anyone infected with the disease has been brought into the country.
One was to arrive on Saturday in a private jet outfitted with a portable tent designed for transporting patients with highly infectious diseases, doctors said at Atlanta’s Emory University Hospital, where they will be treated. The second is to arrive a few days later.
US officials are confident the patients can be treated without putting the public in 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 outbreak in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone, the largest ever recorded, has sickened more than 1300 people and killed more than 700 this year.
The two Americans – Dr Kent Brantly and Nancy Writebol – worked for US missionary groups in Liberia at a hospital that treated Ebola patients. The State Department and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are assisting the groups in their transfer.
The government is working to ensure 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 on Friday.
A defence department spokesman said Dobbins Air Reserve Base in Marietta, Georgia, would be used for the transfer.
Brantly and Writebol were in serious condition and were still in Liberia on Friday, according to the US-based charity Samaritan’s Purse, which is paying for their transfer and medical care.
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 was one of about four such units around the country for testing and treating people who might have been exposed to dangerous viruses, said Dr Eileen Farnon, a Temple University doctor who worked at the Atlanta-based CDC and led teams investigating past Ebola outbreaks in Africa.
FIVE THINGS YOU SHOULD KNOW ABOUT EBOLA
1. THE WEST AFRICA EBOLA OUTBREAK IS NOW THE LARGEST IN HISTORY. The current outbreak in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone has sickened more than 1300 people and killed more than 700 this year.
2. BUT SOME PEOPLE HAVE SURVIVED EBOLA. While the fatality rate for Ebola can be as high as 90 per cent, health officials in the three countries say people have recovered from the virus and the current death rate is about 70 per cent. Those who fared best sought immediate medical attention and got supportive care to prevent dehydration even though there is no specific treatment for Ebola itself.
3. EBOLA CAN LOOK A LOT LIKE OTHER DISEASES. The early symptoms of an Ebola infection include fever, headache, muscle aches and sore throat, according to the World Health Organisation. It can be difficult to distinguish between Ebola and the symptoms of malaria, typhoid fever or cholera. Only in later stages do people with Ebola begin bleeding both internally and externally, often through the nose and ears.
4. EBOLA IS ONLY SPREAD THROUGH BODILY FLUIDS. The Ebola virus is not airborne, so people would have to come into contact with the bodily fluids of an infected person. These include blood, sweat, vomit, faeces, urine, saliva or semen – making transmission through casual contact in a public setting unlikely.
5. FEAR AND MISINFORMATION THOUGH IS MAKING THINGS WORSE. In each of the affected countries, health workers and clinics have come under attack from panicked residents who mistakenly blame foreign doctors and nurses for bringing the virus to remote communities. Family members also have removed sick Ebola patients from hospitals, including one woman in Sierra Leone’s capital who later died. Police had to use tear gas to disperse others who attacked a hospital in the country.