By Steve Norder
ATLANTA (Reuters) - An American aid worker infected with the deadly Ebola virus while in Liberia arrived in the United States from West Africa on Saturday and walked into an Atlanta hospital, wearing a bio-hazard suit, for treatment in a special isolation unit.
A chartered medical aircraft carrying Dr. Kent Brantly touched down at Dobbins Air Reserve Base in Marietta, Georgia, shortly before noon. Brantly was driven by ambulance, with police escort, to Emory University Hospital in Atlanta for treatment in a specially equipped room.
Television news footage showed three people in white biohazard suits step gingerly out of the ambulance. Two of them walked into the hospital, one seeming to lean on the other for support. A hospital spokesman confirmed that Brantly walked into the building under his own power.
Dr. Jay Varkey, an infectious disease specialist at Emory, said he could not comment on a treatment plan until Brantly had been evaluated. Since there is no known cure, standard procedures are to provide hydration with solutions containing electrolytes or intravenous fluids, according to the World Health Organization.
Brantly works for the North Carolina-based Christian organization Samaritan's Purse. A second infected member of the group, missionary Nancy Writebol, will be brought to the United States on a later flight, as the medical aircraft is equipped to carry only one patient at a time.
"It was a relief to welcome Kent home today. I spoke with him, and he is glad to be back in the U.S. I am thankful to God for his safe transport and for giving him the strength to walk into the hospital," Brantly's wife, Amber, said in a written statement. "Please continue praying for Kent and Nancy (Writebol), and please continue praying for the people of Liberia and those who continue to serve them there."
SPECIALLY DESIGNED HOSPITAL ROOM
Brantly and Writebol were helping respond to the worst West African Ebola outbreak on record when they contracted the disease. Since February, more than 700 people in the region have died from the infection.
Despite concern among some in the United States over bringing Ebola patients to the country, health officials have said there is no risk to the public.
The facility at Emory, set up with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is one of only four in the country with the facilities to deal with such cases.
"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.
The plane used to bring Brantly to the United States was equipped with a plastic isolation tent, a medical bed, intravenous lines and monitoring equipment, according to the CDC, which called the set-up an Aeromedical Biological Containment System.
Ebola is a hemorrhagic virus with a death rate of up to 90 percent of those who become infected; the fatality rate in the current epidemic is about 60 percent.
Brantly is a 33-year-old father of two young children. Writebol is a 59-year-old mother of two.
CDC spokeswoman Barbara Reynolds said this week that the agency was not aware of any Ebola patient ever being treated in the United States previously. But five people in the past decade have entered the country with either Lassa Fever or Marburg Fever, hemorrhagic fevers that are similar to Ebola.
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 them by phone or intercom.
"There is a little bit of worry," Jenny Kendrix, 46, said of having Brantly brought to the same hospital where her husband is being treated for cancer.
But 52-year-old Ernie Surunis, at the hospital for a pharmacy conference, said he was not bothered.
"We can't leave them (in Africa) to die. They went over to help other people," he said.
(Additional reporting by Daniel Flynn in Dakar, Curtis Skinner in New York, and Alex Dobuzinskis and Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles; Writing by Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Sandra Maler, Frances Kerry, Leslie Adler and Lisa Shumaker)