Two American medical missionaries diagnosed with the deadly Ebola virus in Liberia could be back in the United States as early as this weekend for treatment at special medical isolation units, including Atlanta's Emory University Hospital, the U.S. State Department said Friday.
The State Department did not name the two individuals, nor indicate where they will be taken, saying only that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was facilitating their transfer on a non-commercial flight and and would "maintain strict isolation upon arrival in the United States."
It said the transfer would take place "in the coming days."
CNN reports that two Americans being airlifted from Liberia are Dr. Kent Brantly and Nancy Writebol. Both are described as being in serious condition. It reported that the the CDC's Gulfstream jet outfitted with an isolation pod left Cartersville,Ga., for Liberia on Thursday evening.
Aid worker Brantly, 33, of Fort Worth, has been working in Liberia for the North Carolina-based missionary group Samaritan's Purse to oversee an Ebola treatment center. Writebol, of Charlotte, N.C., was also working at the center on behalf of the faith group Service in Mission.
Emory Hospital has said only that there are plans for an American aid worker to be transferred to its facilities for treatment, but did not name the patient nor provide an arrival time. A medical transport plane left the United States on Thursday afternoon, headed to Liberia.
Emory Hospital has a specially built isolation unit set up in collaboration with the CDC to treat patients who are exposed to certain serious infectious diseases.
The facility, they said, is physically separate from other patient areas of the hospital and is equipped to provide an extremely high level of clinical isolation. Emory's facility is one of only four of its type in the nation.
At a Friday press conference, Emory officials said patients with Ebola posed no risk to staff or other patients, because of the hospital's strick infection control procedures.
"We don't believe there is any likelihood at all of secondary cases as a result of these patients coming to the United States," said Bruce Ribner, an Emory professor in the infectious disease division. "I have no concenrs about my personal health or the health of the other healthcare workers who will be working in this unit."
After talking to doctors in Africa, Emory officials decided they could provide better supportive care to the Americans infected with Ebola. With no effective treatments or vaccines — and a death rate in this outbreak of about 60% — supportive care to treat patient's symptoms is vital. Emory can provide intensive care and has specialists who could care for the patients if they need to be placed on respirators or need kidney dialysis, for example. Ebola often causes kidney and liver failure.
At a press conference, President Barack Obama says he is taking the Ebola outbreak in Africa seriously. He says the United States is taking precautions for next week's U.S.-African summit in the nation's capital.
He says the federal Centers for Disease Control is working with international health organizations to provide assistance to the affected countries. He says this outbreak is more aggressive than in the past.
Administration officials said the leaders of Liberia and Sierra Leone had canceled their trip to Washington for the gathering of African leaders.
The CDC issued a travel warning on Thursday for all non-essential travelers to Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone in West Africa.
Samaritan's Purse and SIM say they are working to evacuate all but the most essential personnel to their home country by this weekend, although the center will remain open.
Dr. Margaret Chan, director-general of the World Health Organization, said Friday that more than 60 health care workers have lost their lives in helping treat Ebola patients.
WHO says 729 people have died in the latest outbreak of Ebola in the region.
Nancy and Dave Writebol
Nancy Writebol, of Charlotte, N.C., a medical missionary with Service in Mission, is shown with her husband, David, in an updated photo. She was working at a medical center in Liberia when she was diagnosed with Ebola. Her husband has been allowed to visit her while wearing a haz-maz suit.(Photo: Service in Mission)
Sierra Leone has declared a statement of emergency, banning public meetings and sending troops door to door to look for new cases and to quarantine the homes of former patients. Liberia has closed its public schools.
In a meeting with the presidents of the three West African countries, Chan the Ebola outbreak "is moving faster than our efforts to control it."
If the situation continues to deterioriate, Chan said, "the consequences can be catastrophic in terms of lost lives, but also several socioeconomic disruption and a high risk of spread to other countries."
There is no vaccine nor specific treatment, which has produced a fatality rate of about 60% in the latest cases.
A U.S. citizen, Patrick Sawyer, died last week after arriving in Lagos, Nigeria, on a flight from Liberia aboard the regional airline Asky. sawyer, a Sawyer, a 40-year old consultant with the Liberian Ministry of Finance, is survived by a wife and three children in Coon Rapids, Minn.
CDC Director Dr. Thomas Frieden said he doubted Ebola could spread in the United States. "That is not in the cards," he told reporters Thursday.
Contributing: Liz Szabo, Associated Press