Two Americans battling Ebola are being flown from Liberia to Atlanta in specially outfitted planes–bringing the incurable disease to U.S. shores for the first time, it has been reported.
Dr Kent Brantly and hygienist Nancy Writebol, both of whom are said to be in ‘grave condition’, will be brought back to the U.S. one by one, sources told ABC News.
Emory University in Atlanta has confirmed that they will be taking one of the patients ‘in the next several days’ after they arrive in the U.S. in the Gulfstream jet. It is not clear which of the two patients they will be housing or where the second patient will go.
Emory and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which is also based in Atlanta, have built a special containment unit to house the patient, who is in need of an extremely high level of isolation.
CNN reported that the CDC jet took off on Thursday to collect the victims.
Inside the aircraft, the patients will remain in a tent-like structure called an aeromedical biological containment system, which allows officials to move highly contagious patients without fear of exposure to pathogens.
According to WXIA, Emory’s isolation unit is on the ground floor and has three beds with the highest standards in negative pressure air handling, HEPA filtration and exhaust.
‘When this unit was being built, we hoped we’d never have to use the space to treat a serious communicable disease,’ said Emory epidemiologist Bruce Ribner.
However that’s precisely what will soon happen. The modified Gulfstream III took off from Cartersville, Georgia Thursday afternoon for the first-of-its-kind mission to collect the Ebola patients.
After it emerged the Americans were returning to their homeland, Twitter lit up with fellow citizens fuming over the decision.
One self-proclaimed patriot was especially unhappy with the news.
‘Ebola patient will be brought to the U.S. in a few days–now I know for sure that our leaders are incompetent. KEEP THEM OUT OF HERE!’ Donald Trump tweeted Thursday evening.
Efforts have been made to help the two patients with the means available in Liberia–and just hours before the flight to Atlanta was revealed, father-of-two Brantly gave up the single vial of an experimental treatment sent over from the U.S. in order that Writebol–a grandmother and longtime Christian missionary–could receive it instead.
Brantly, from Fort Worth, Texas, ensured Writebol received the experimental drug instead of him after only a small amount arrived in Liberia, the Samaritan’s Purse charity said on Wednesday.
Brantly would receive a transfusion of the blood of a 14-year-old Ebola survivor who personally helped to treat. Giving blood transfusions from survivors to still suffering Ebola patients is an established, though not nearly proven, treatment for the largely untreatable disease.
Announcing Dr Brantly’s gallant decision, Samaritan’s Purse president Franklin Graham said: ‘Yesterday, an experimental serum arrived in the country, but there was only enough for one person. Dr. Brantly asked that it be given to Nancy Writebol.’
However, on Thursday charity SIM said in a statement that Mrs Writebol’s condition had worsened, despite the serum.
Mrs Writebol is in stable, but serious condition and is receiving an experimental drug that doctors hope will better address her condition, the charity said.
Her husband, David, is close by but can only visit his wife through a window or dressed in a haz-mat suit.
‘We continue to pray for Nancy’s full and complete recovery,’ said Bruce Johnson, president of SIM USA. ‘Even though her condition has worsened, we know she is receiving the best possible medical care, and we are thankful that she has access to this experimental drug.
‘We believe in the power of prayer and ask people around the world not only to pray for Nancy and Kent, but also for everyone affected by this terrible virus.’
On Wednesday, the charity said Dr Brantley’s condition had gone from grave to serious.
However, on Thursday they said he had ‘taken a slight turn for the worse overnight.’
Despite Brantly’s recent turn for the worse, his wife remained confident Thursday that he would pull through.
‘I remain hopeful and believing that Kent will be healed from this dreadful disease,’ she said in a statement Thursday. “He is strong and peaceful and confident in the love of Jesus Christ, which is his sustenance right now.’
She also said that she and her children, who were in Liberia with Brantly before he fell ill, remained perfectly healthy.
Dr Brantly was in West Africa with the missionary group responding to the Ebola outbreak when he was diagnosed last week.
His wife and children returned to the United States before Dr Brantly showed any signs of illness.
Samaritan’s Purse has evacuated all of its non-essential personnel for the Ebola outbreak.
Meanwhile on Thursday, U.S. health officials warned Americans not to travel to the three West African countries hit by an outbreak of Ebola.
The travel advisory applies to nonessential travel to Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, where the deadly disease has killed more than 700 people this year.
Yesterday, Johnson told MailOnline that within the next few days we will know if Kent Brantly and Nancy Writebol are likely to survive.
He said that Ebola could turn for the worse within hours and that both the patients may soon begin to show signs of internal bleeding which could be fatal.
Mr Johnson also warned that unless the international community does more to stop what has become the most serious outbreak of Ebola in history then it will spark a ‘tsunami of destruction’ in Africa–and maybe beyond.
Last week Dr Brantly, 33, was identified as the first American to be diagnosed with Ebola, which kills up to 90 per cent of those it infects.
Mrs Writebol, 60, an educator turned missionary from Charlotte, North Carolina, was the second.
The condition update will be agonising for both their families–not least Dr Brantly’s wife Amber who is in the US with their two young children.
Dr Brantly and Mrs Writebol were in Liberia with SIM USA and Samaritan’s Purse, a Christian aid charity.
Dr Brantly was treating the sick whilst Mrs Writebol was disinfecting medics as they left isolation wards.
Mr Johnson told MailOnline that both were being treated in isolation private houses at the SIM compound near the Liberian capital Monrovia.
Mrs Writebol was still in her home and her husband David has had to move out.
Mr Johnson said he spoke to Dr Brantly on Monday and that he ‘wasn’t as good as he had been.’
He said: ‘The situation is so fluid. One day it’s up, one day it’s down. He was up working on his computer, talking with people this is not a bed ridden situation.
‘He is moving, he is active. He is interactive and we are pleased with that.’
Mrs Writebol is suffering from diarrhea but is talking and in touch with family via her computer on Skype and via email.
Mr Johnson said: ‘Her husband David seems strong. He is handling this with faith but he is also realistic with Nancy and Kent.
‘This is not a light situation. This is a very serious situation but we are encouraged by how they are doing so far. The next few days are critical in assessing the recovery of both of them.’
SIM spokesman Palmer Holt said that the coming days are so important because symptoms would start to show that would indicate that the disease had entered its second, more serious phase.
The first stage is characterised by fever, headaches, nausea, vomiting, a rash and diarrhea.
The second however is haemorrhagic fever in which patients endure difficulty breathing and swallowing and agonising bleeding inside their body.
Blood pours out of their ears and nose and turns their eyes from white to red. They die an agonising death. Generally patients who enter the second stage do not survive.
Mr Johnson said that SIM USA had not yet identified how Dr Brantly and Mrs Writebol had become infected but said that they take ‘extreme safety measures’ and follow guidelines from the Centre For Disease Control.
He said: ‘Our hearts just break for them.’
So far more than 600 people have been killed in the outbreak across West Africa that has infected more than 1,200.
Liberia has closed its borders to help stop the disease amid fears that it could spread after a patient suffering from Ebola took a flight to Lagos in Nigeria.