ATLANTA - Preparations are underway at Emory University Hospital to treat two Americans infected with the Ebola virus.
In a Pentagon briefing Friday morning, officials announced that the two American patients infected with Ebola will be coming to metro Atlanta. Officials say the victims, Dr. Kent Brantly and Nancy Writebol, will pass through Dobbins Air Reserve Base in Cobb County. From there, the two will be transferred to Emory University Hospital.
Writebol and Brantly contracted the disease in Liberia, where they worked with the faith-based charity Samaritan's Purse.
Friday afternoon, Emory held a news conference saying it is “looking very much forward to assisting” the Ebola patients. The hospital says Samaritan’s Purse first contacted them about bringing the patients to Atlanta. Doctors say treatment in the U.S. will give the patients a better chance of survival.
The hospital says it has taken every precaution and doctors “do not believe any healthcare worker, any other patient, or any visitor is at risk for infection.”
The patients will be kept isolated in special containment units, which will have a window and intercom system, and will be treated by highly trained personnel.
“We don’t believe that there is any likelihood at all that there will be any secondary cases,” said Dr. Bruce Ribner, an Emory professor in the Infectious Disease Division.
According to Emory officials, the victims will be the first Ebola patients to ever be treated at an institution in the United States. The hospital says it is talking with the FDA and the CDC about possible experimental treatments.
Channel 2’s Dave Huddleston found out from Samaritan's Purse that Brantly and Writebol are in serious condition.
The hospital said both patients are stable for transport at this time, but no arrival time was announced.
Samaritan's Purse says the patients are still in Liberia and will be medically flown back to the U.S. early next week.
In a statement the organization said:
"Dr. Kent Brantly, a doctor working for Samaritan's Purse, and Nancy Writebol, a missionary with SIM, are currently in serious condition. The two Americans who contracted Ebola in Liberia remain in the country today but medical evacuation efforts are underway and should be completed by early next week.
Evacuation of 60 nonessential Samaritan’s Purse and SIM staff and dependents in Liberia has already begun. They are all healthy, and we expect them to return to the United States by the end of the weekend.
We ask for continued prayer for the evacuation process and the health of Kent Brantly, Nancy Writebol, the medical staff treating them and for all those who are affected by Ebola."
The hospital told Huddleston that only a limited number of hospital employees will be near the Ebola patients.
ABC News Medical Director Richard Besser says, from what he knows, the hospital is well equipped to handle an Ebola patient.
"Having a place like Emory where people are trained, they exercise on this, they know what they're doing, is exactly where you want a patient like this to come, because they will do everything to reduce that risk," Besser told Huddleston.
Brother of Ebola patient speaks out
The families of two health care workers infected with the deadly Ebola virus in west Africa anxiously await their arrival in metro Atlanta for treatment.
One of the two patients is scheduled to arrive at Dobbins Air Reserve Base Saturday.
Channel 2’s Amy Napier Viteri spoke with the brother of one of the Ebola victims. He said he's worried, but relieved his brother will be cared for in the U.S.
The brother of Dr. Kent Brantly lives in Gwinnett County. He said his brother selflessly put his own health at risk to help care for others.
“I'm worried about him. Yeah, I am. But he'll be OK, regardless,” said Kevin Brantly.
Kevin Brantly said his brother had been in Liberia since around October. Brantly and another aid worker, Nancy Writebol, were working with patients infected with the Ebola virus when they became infected themselves. Kevin Brantly said family members spoke with his brother as recently as Friday. They said he was doing a little better after a rough night.
“I don't know the specifics but I know he was feeling a little bit better and hopeful for that,” Kevin Brantly said.
Kevin Brantly said his brother made the decision to stay and help others when the Ebola outbreak worsened, despite the risk to his own health.
“It takes a lot of worry and care for other people to put your own life at risk for people you don't know. But that's what it takes to make this world a better place, too,” Kevin Brantly said.
Patients gravely ill
Family members for the two Ebola victims say their loves one are gravely ill and remain positive that they will make a full recovery.
"I remain hopeful and believing that Kent will be healed from this dreadful disease," Brantly's wife, Amber, said in a statement released by the aid group he works with, Samaritan's Purse. She and the couple's two young children left Liberia for Texas before her husband was infected, and she said they are fine.
"She's tired and she's wearied and a bit sad as well. I know it's been hard because she never imagined that this would be something that she would have to deal with,” Nancy's son Jeremy Whitebol said.
An experimental serum for treating Ebola arrived in Liberia, and Brantly requested it be given to Writebol when he learned there was only enough for one, according to a news release from Samaritan’s Purse.
“Dr. Brantly asked that it be given to Nancy Writebol,” said Franklin Graham, president of Samaritan’s Purse. “However, Dr. Brantly received a unit of blood from a 14-year-old boy who has survived Ebola because of Dr. Brantly’s care. The young boy and his family wanted to be able to help the doctor that saved his life.”
U.S. issues travel warning
U.S. health officials on Thursday warned Americans not to travel to the three West African countries hit by an outbreak of Ebola.
The travel advisory applies to nonessential travel to Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, where the deadly disease has killed more than 700 people this year.
"The bottom line is Ebola is worsening in West Africa," said Dr. Tom Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, who announced the travel warning.
He called Ebola "a tragic, dreadful and merciless virus."
The purpose of the travel warning is to not only protect U.S. travelers, but limit their use of overburdened clinics and hospitals for injuries or other illnesses, he said.
For more than a month, CDC has advised travelers to simply take precautions when in the outbreak region. Thursday's alert is the highest-level. The World Health Organization, however, has not issued a similar travel warning for the West Africa region. The last time the CDC issued a high-level warning was in 2003 because of a SARS outbreak in Asia.
More about the outbreak
The current outbreak is the largest since the disease first emerged in Africa nearly 40 years ago. The virus is contagious and is spread by direct contact with blood or bodily fluids from a sick person. Ebola can't be spread like flu through casual contact or breathing in the same air.
Experts estimate that in this outbreak, about 60 percent of the people who have gotten sick with Ebola have died — a frightening fatality rate that is among the highest of any disease. There is no vaccine and no specific treatment for it.
The CDC has about two dozen staffers in West Africa to help try to control the outbreak. Frieden on Thursday said the CDC will send 50 more in the next month. CDC workers in Africa also are helping at airports to help screen passengers, he said.
The CDC has said that the risk of a traveler bringing the Ebola virus to the United States remains small. On Monday, the agency sent a health alert to U.S. doctors, updating them about the outbreak. The alert stressed they should ask about foreign travel in patients who come down with Ebola-like symptoms, including fever, headache, vomiting and diarrhea.
Even if a traveler infected with Ebola came to the U.S., the risk of an outbreak is considered very low, Frieden said. Patients are contagious only when they show symptoms and U.S. hospitals are well equipped to isolate cases and control spread of the virus.
Frieden also noted that relatively few people travel from West Africa to the United States. He said about 10,000 travelers from those countries come to the United States in an average three- or four-month period, and most do not arrive on direct flights.
The CDC has staff at 20 U.S. airports and border crossings. They evaluate any travelers with signs of dangerous infectious diseases, and isolate them when necessary. The agency is prepared to increase that staffing if needed, he said.
Frieden said a widespread Ebola outbreak in the United States "is not in the cards."