By Steve Norder
ATLANTA (Reuters) - The first of two American aid workers infected with the deadly Ebola virus while in Liberia landed in the United States on Saturday, en route to an Atlanta hospital for treatment.
A chartered medical aircraft carrying Dr. Kent Brantly touched down at Dobbins Air Reserve Base in Marietta, Georgia shortly before noon, a base spokesman said.
Brantly was transferred to an ambulance to be taken to Emory University Hospital for treatment in an isolated and specially equipped room, spokesman Lieutenant Colonel James Wilson said.
Brantly works for the North Carolina-based Christian organization Samaritan's Purse. Another member of the group, missionary Nancy Writebol, is due to be brought to the United States on a later flight, as the plane is only equipped to carry one patient at a time.
Brantly and Writebol were helping respond to the worst West African Ebola outbreak on record when they contracted the disease. Since February, more than 700 people in the region have died from the infection.
Despite concern among some in the United States over bringing Ebola patients to the country, health officials have said bringing the aid workers into the country would not put the public at risk.
The facility at Emory, set up with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is one of only four in the country with the facilities to deal with such cases. It is physically separate from other patient areas, providing a high level of clinical isolation.
TEAM OF DOCTORS ON HAND
"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, said Friday.
Ribner said he hoped the medical support available at Emory could improve the chances of survival for the patients.
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 is a 33-year-old father of two young children, and Writebol is a 59-year-old mother of two.
The two Americans will be treated primarily by a team of four infectious disease physicians. The patients will be able to see loved ones through a plate glass window and speak to those outside their rooms by phone or intercom.
"There is a little bit of worry," Jenny Kendrix, 46, said of having the Ebola virus patient brought to the same hospital where her husband was being treated for cancer. "There is worry about it getting out."
But 52-year-old Ernie Surunis of Columbus, Mississippi, at the hospital for a pharmacy conference, said he was not bothered at all.
"This is a good hospital. I'm glad (the patients) are coming. We can't leave them (in Africa) to die. They went over to help other people," he said.
(Additional reporting by Daniel Flynn in Dakar, Curtis Skinner in New York and Alex Dobuzinskis and Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles; Writing by Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Sandra Maler and Frances Kerry)