The Gulfstream jet is expected to land at Dobbins Air Reserve Base in Marietta, according to the Associated Press.
“Phoenix Air Group, Inc. can confirm that it has been assisting in the medical evacuation of two American citizens who have had an exposure event to the Ebola virus while working in Africa. This endeavor has been carefully coordinated with the U.S. Department of State, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and other federal agencies,” Phoenix Air said in a news release late Friday. “The patients will be transported in highly specialized patient containment devices, following protocols developed and rehearsed with the CDC, to advanced medical treatment centers in the United States. Further details on individual air ambulance flights cannot be divulged under the Health Information Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) which precludes the company from disclosing information on patients.
“Phoenix Air medical professionals have worked closely with medical professionals at the CDC, U.S. Department of State, National Institutes of Health and U.S. Department of Defense to analyze and ensure that all transports meet and exceed the highest levels of safety.”
The two Americans — identified as Dr. Kent Brantly and Nancy Writebol — worked for U.S. missionary groups in Liberia at a hospital that treated Ebola patients. The two will be transferred to Emory University Hospital, home to one of four units in the country equipped to test and treat people exposed to dangerous viruses.
One patient will arrive today, with the second expected later. The aircraft is a Gulfstream jet fitted with what essentially is a specialized, collapsible clear tent designed to house a single patient and stop any infectious germs from escaping. It was built to transfer CDC employees exposed to contagious diseases for treatment. The CDC said the private jet can only accommodate one patient at a time.
Today’s transfer will be the first time a person infected with Ebola is brought in to the U.S. The virus is spread through direct contact with blood or other bodily fluids from an infected person, not through the air.
The government is working to ensure that any Ebola-related evacuations “are carried out safely, thereby protecting the patient and the American public,” State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said in a statement released Friday.
Brantly and Writebol were in serious condition and were still in Liberia on Friday, according to the North Carolina-based charity Samaritan’s Purse, which is paying for their transfer and medical care.
An Emory emergency medical team in Liberia has evaluated the two aid workers, and deemed both stable enough for the trip to Atlanta, said Emory’s Dr. Bruce Ribner.
Brantly, 33, works for Samaritan’s Purse while Writebol works for another U.S. mission group called SIM. Late last week, Samaritan’s Purse officials said Brantly had tested positive for the virus. Shortly after that announcement, Writebol’s infection was disclosed.
Liberia is one of the three West African countries involved in the Ebola outbreak, the largest since the virus was first identified in 1976.
There is no specific treatment for disease, although Writebol has received an experimental treatment, according to the mission groups.
“If there’s any modern therapy that can be done,” such as better monitoring of fluids, electrolytes and vital signs, workers will be able to do it better in this safe environment, said Dr. Philip Brachman, an Emory University public health specialist who for many years headed the CDC’s disease detectives program.
“That’s all we can do for such a patient. We can make them feel comfortable” and let the body try to beat back the virus, he said.
He was echoed by Emory’s Ribner, one of the doctors who will be seeing the Ebola patients. He stressed that safety precautions will be taken by staff in the unit.
“I have no concerns about even my personal health or the health of the other health care workers who will be working in that area,” Ribner said.
The unit has its own laboratory equipment so samples don’t have to be sent to the main hospital lab. Located on the ground floor, it’s carefully separated from other patient areas, Farnon said.
Health experts say a specialized isolation unit is not even necessary for treating an Ebola patient. The virus does not spread through the air, so standard, rigorous infection control measures should work.
The current outbreak in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone has sickened more than 1,300 people and killed more than 700 this year.
— The Associated Press contributed to this report.