ATLANTA (Reuters) - The first of two American aid workers infected with the deadly Ebola virus while in Liberia left the West African country headed for the United States on Saturday, where he will be treated in isolation at an Atlanta hospital, officials said.
The plane carrying Dr. Kent Brantly was expected to arrive in Atlanta later on Saturday, according to a spokesperson for the North Carolina-based Christian organization Samaritan's Purse, for whom Brantly worked.
He will then be taken to Emory University Hospital for treatment in an isolated and specially equipped room.
The second Samaritan's Purse staff member, missionary Nancy Writebol, is due to be transported on a later flight, as the plane is only equipped to carry one patient at a time.
"We have learned that we will be receiving a patient with Ebola at Emory University Hospital on Saturday," Holly Korschun, spokeswoman for the facility where they will be treated, said late on Friday. She added the second patient would follow in the next few days.
The patients were helping respond to the worst West African Ebola outbreak on record with the North Carolina-based Christian organization Samaritan's Purse and missionary group SIM USA when they contracted the disease. Since February, more than 700 people in the region have died from the infection.
'A LITTLE BIT OF WORRY'
Despite alarm by some in the United States over bringing Ebola patients to the country, health officials have said bringing the sickened aid workers into the country would not put the public at risk.
The facility at Emory, set up with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is one of only four in the country set up to deal with such cases. It is physically separate from other patient areas, providing a high level of clinical isolation.
"We have a specially designed unit, which is highly contained. We have highly trained personnel who know how to safely enter the room of a patient who requires this form of isolation," Bruce Ribner, an infectious disease specialist at Emory, said Friday.
Ribner said he hoped the medical support available at Emory could improve the chances of survival from that seen on the ground in West Africa.
The hemorrhagic virus can kill up to 90 percent of those who become infected, and the fatality rate in the current epidemic is about 60 percent.
Brantly, a 33-year-old father of two young children, and Writebol, a 59-year-old mother of two, will arrive at Dobbins Air Reserve Base outside Atlanta before being transported to Emory.
The two Americans will be treated primarily by a team of four infectious disease physicians. The patients will be able to see loved ones through a plate glass window and speak to those outside their rooms by phone or intercom.
"There is a little bit of worry," Jenny Kendrix, 46, said of having the Ebola virus patient brought to the same hospital where her husband was being treated for cancer. "There is worry about it getting out."
But 52-year-old Ernie Surunis of Columbus, Mississippi, at the hospital for a pharmacy conference, said he was not bothered at all.
"This is a good hospital. I'm glad (the patients) are coming. We can't leave them (in Africa) to die. They went over to help other people," he said.