By Julie Steenhuysen
CHICAGO (Reuters) - The third U.S. medical missionary to become infected with the Ebola virus was wheeled on a gurney into the Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha for treatment after being flown there from West Africa, a spokeswoman for the medical center said on Friday.
Dr. Rick Sacra, a 51-year-old Boston physician, contracted Ebola while working at a hospital in Liberia on behalf of the North Carolina-based Christian group SIM USA. Sacra had worked in the obstetrics ward at the ELWA Hospital of SIM in Monrovia.
Sacra's plane landed at the Offutt Air Force Base and he was transported to the medical center in an ambulance escorted by state highway patrol, said Jenny Nowatzke, media relations coordinator with the medical center.
"The transfer went very, very smoothly," Dr. Mark Rupp, an infectious disease specialist at the hospital, told a news conference on Friday. "Our patient is sick but stable."
According to the World Health Organization, the Ebola outbreak in West Africa has killed more than 2,000 people and infected more than 4,000 since the outbreak began in Guinea in March.
The virus kills about half of those who contract it. In the Nebraska facility, Sacra will have the advantage supportive treatments, such as IV fluids, that may help him fight off the infection.
He is being cared for in the hospital's Biocontainment Patient Care Unit, a special isolation unit at the hospital that was designed to treat patients with highly infectious diseases.
The facility is similar to the one at Emory University in Atlanta where two other SIM USA missionaries, Nancy Writebol and Dr. Kent Brantly, were treated and recovered.
Writebol and Brantly were given an experimental treatment made by Mapp Biopharmaceutical called ZMapp, but no more doses of that treatment are available, and doctors have said it is not clear whether it helped their recovery.
Rupp said the hospital would offer "aggressive supportive care," and it is considering other experimental therapies, including offering Sacra "passive immunity" in which antibodies derived from the blood of patients who have survived Ebola are infused into a patient.
WHO experts backed this treatment approach on Friday.
Other possibilities include experimental drugs in development by Vancouver-based Tekmira Pharmaceuticals Corp and privately held Profectus BioSciences of Tarrytown, New York.
During the news conference, Bruce Johnson, president of SIM USA, tearfully recalled an email he received from Sacra on Monday in which the doctor apologized for contracting Ebola and said he did not want this "to detract or disrupt any of the care of the patients" at the group's hospital in Monrovia.
Johnson said the group had paid the cost of evacuating Sacra and that the cost of his care would be covered by the group's insurance company.
(Additional reporting by Fiona Ortiz in Chicago)