American ebola patients flying to US

The Center for Disease Control is taking extraordinary precautions in flying two Americans who contracted the deadly ebola virus back to the US. A specially equipped airplane will transport the victims one at  a time and fly them to Atlanta where they will be treated at a CDC equipped ebola center at Emory University.

Ebola has a mortality rate of between 50% and 90% and is spread when someone comes in direct contact with the bodily fluids of a patient.


Despite alarm by some in the United States over the transport, health officials have said bringing the sickened aid workers into the country would not put the American public at risk.

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.

The facility at Emory, set up with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is one of only four in the country and 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, told a news conference on 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 each arrive at Dobbins Air Reserve Base outside Atlanta before being transported to Emory, officials at the Pentagon and the hospital said.

The two will be treated primarily by a team of four infectious disease physicians. The workers will be able to see loved ones through a plate glass window and speak to those outside their rooms by phone or intercom.

The threat is not from these aid workers. The real threat comes from someone flying in from Sierra Leone or some other West African country who may be infected with the virus and not realize it. According to Wikipedia, symptoms can appear up to three weeks after infection. Still the difficullty in spreading the disease makes an outbreak where millions are infected and die extremely remote.

African hospitals are not as well equipped as western hospitals which also contributes to the spread of the disease. Reused needles appear to be a major reason the disease spreads in Africa and health care workers there are also highly vulnerable due to a lack of gloves and masks.

The bottom line: Caution is in order and the CDC is taking all necessary steps - including screening airline passengers from affected countries upon their arrival - in order to prevent an outbreak here. The affected Afircan countries are also screening passengers before they board international flights, and have isolated those affected. So far the death toll stands at 729 - by far the largest number of fatalties in an ebola outbreak in history. It's not quite time to hit the panic button and deny flights from West African countries to the US. But another few weeks of this and that may change.