How someone stricken with Ebola virus makes it back to U.S.


Dr. Kent Brantly (R) wears protective gear while treating a patient at the case management center on the campus of ELWA Hospital in Monrovia, Liberia in this undated handout photograph courtesy of Samaritan’s Purse. Brantly contracted Ebola and has been described as stable but suffering from some symptoms of the contagious disease, for which there is no known cure. (REUTERS)

How do you transport someone infected with the Ebola virus from West Africa all the way to Atlanta? Carefully, sealed off from the pilots and anyone else on the aircraft.

There’s a special jet equipped for such journeys and it contains a portable pod built by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Defense Department and a private company. And this plastic isolation tent is where the patient will remain, on a stretcher, throughout the voyage.

It’s called an Aeromedical Biological Containment System.

A U.S. aid worker infected with Ebola while working in West Africa will be treated in a high security ward at Emory University in Atlanta. (Reuters)

A patient infected with the virus in Africa is expected to be transported to Emory University Hospital in Atlanta in the coming days, according to the university. The patient, who has not been identified, will be treated in a “specially built isolation unit” set up to care for patients who are “exposed to certain serious infection diseases,” the hospital said in a statement.

Citing an unnamed source, CNN reported that the plane left Cartersville, Ga., Thursday evening to evacuate two Americans – likely Kent Brantly, a physician, and Nancy Writebol. Both are missionary workers who have contracted the virus. At least one of them, CNN reported, will be moved to Emory University Hospital. Officials have not verified the information.

Still, what would the journey home be like for two people who are listed in “stable but grave condition” with a virus that is said to have killed more than 700 in Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Nigeria since March?

“There is the potential that the actual movement of the patient could do more harm than the benefit from more advanced supportive care outside of the country,” CDC director Thomas Frieden said during a press call.

That’s why, according to the CDC’s Emerging Infectious Diseases journal, patients must be evaluated and stabilized before such a flight.

The journal article, published in 1999, details the Aeromedical Isolation Team’s role and the evacuation process. It first deployed teams in 1989 when Ebola seized monkeys imported from the Philippines. The animals were quarantined and then killed in Reston, Va., according to the article.

Though it’s not certain how medical teams will transport the patient, he or she will likely be accompanied on the plane by a physician, nurse and four to six medics, according to U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases protocol. Medical personnel may wear impervious suits, hoods and vinyl boots, and communicate with the patient on two-way radios.

On the jet, the patient will likely be put on a stretcher inside the sealed isolation tent with a HEPA-filtered ventilation system. Drugs or fluids are administered using a needleless IV to avoid popping the plastic walls. For the same reason, no sharp tools are allowed.

Within days, at least one patient will arrive at Emory where the isolation unit is “physically separate from other patient areas and has unique equipment and infrastructure that provide an extraordinarily high level of clinical isolation,” according to the hospital. CDC spokeswoman Barbara Reynolds told Reuters she does not know of another Ebola patient treated in the U.S.

There is no known cure for Ebola, according to reports. Christopher Mores, associate director of Louisiana State University’s Center for Experimental Infectious Diseases, told CNN doctors can only give IV fluids to prevent dehydration and shock as well as blood or platelet transfusions and oxygen therapy. The body’s immune system must do the work.

Brantly and Writebol contracted the virus in Liberia while working with Samaritan’s Purse and Serving in Mission, according to reports.

Lindsey Bever is a national news reporter for The Washington Post. She writes for the Morning Mix news blog. Tweet her: @lindseybever
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