First American Ebola patient arrives in U.S. from Africa

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Photo Courtesy: CBS

ATLANTA, Geo. (CBS) – An American doctor infected with the Ebola virus in Africa arrived in Atlanta for treatment Saturday, landing at a military base, then being whisked away to one of the most sophisticated hospital isolation units in the country, officials say.

A private plane outfitted with a special, portable tent designed for transporting patients with highly infectious diseases arrived at Dobbins Air Reserve Base, spokesman Lt. Col. James Wilson confirmed. Earlier, the Samaritan’s Purse missionary group confirmed to CBS News that Dr. Kent Brantly is the patient.

An ambulance from Atlanta’s Grady Memorial Hospital left the base shortly after the jet landed and drove the 15 miles or so toward Emory University Hospital where Brantly and another aid worker will be treated.

Later, aerial footage showed one person in white protective clothing from head to toe climb down from the back of the ambulance and a second person in the same type of hazmat-looking suit appeared to take his gloved hands and guide him toward a building at Emory.

U.S. officials are confident the patients can be treated without putting the public in any danger.

The ambulance with red markings was flanked by a few SUVs and a police car for the short trip to the hospital along a wide-open Interstate with no traffic.

The second patient, Nancy Writebol, will follow a few days later, the hospital has said.

Dr. Bruce Ribner, who specializes in infectious diseases at Emory and will be spearheading care for the patients, said in a news conference Friday that the hospital’s staff is trained to care for patients with highly contagious diseases and every safety precaution would be taken to ensure that the patients are well isolated.

“The bottom line is we have an inordinate amount of safety associated with the care of these patients and we do not believe any health care worker, any patient or any visitor to our facility is in any way at risk for this infection,” he said.

Ribner said this is the only known case in history that a medical facility in the U.S. has treated patients for Ebola, a virus that has a mortality rate between 60 and 96 percent. However, Ribner said a patient with Marburg virus, another hemorrhagic fever virus similar to Ebola, received treatment at Emory the 1970s.

Dr. Jay Varkey, an infectious disease specialist at Emory who will be involved in Brantly’s care, said the hospital’s isolation unit is well-equipped to handle patients with diseases that are even more infectious than Ebola.

The unit was used for treating at least one SARS patient in 2005. Unlike Ebola, SARS – like the flu – is an airborne virus and can spread easily when an infected person coughs or sneezes. Health experts say a specialized isolation unit is not needed for treating an Ebola patient. Standard rigorous infection control measures should work at any hospital.

“Ebola is only transmitted through blood and bodily fluids,” he said. “Unlike the flu, like influenza, which we deal with every winter, Ebola cannot be spread thorugh the air.”

There is no known cure for Ebola, which begins with fever, headache and weakness and can escalate to vomiting, diarrhea and kidney and liver problems. In some cases, patients bleed both internally and externally.

The two seriously Americans worked at a hospital in Liberia, one of the three West Africa countries hit by the largest Ebola outbreak in history.

The Emory hospital unit is located just down a hill from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It is one of about four such units around the country for testing and treating people infected with dangerous, infectious germs.