ATLANTA – Emory University Hospital is preparing to receive two Ebola patients from West Africa. The Pentagon says the patients will be flown into Dobbins Air Force Reserve Base in Marietta. One will arrive Saturday, the other will arrive later, on a date not announced.
Both patients will be treated at a special isolation unit at Emory University Hospital. In a press conference Friday afternoon, Emory University's Dr. Bruce Ribner, who will oversee that unit says they were asked to accept two patients because it's one of only four sites in the country capable of handling these high-risk patients.
He noted, Emory's isolation unit has been used before to treat SARS, but has been used far more in training than in practice. "The bottom line is, we have an inordinate amount of safety involved... no one is in ANY way at risk." "You need to appreciate Ebola is NOT spread by some magic mechanism," Dr. Ribner said.
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Ribner went on to point out the containment unit is in a "discrete" area of Emory hospital and the policy is to avoid visitors. But he says the unit will be fitted with plate glass windows. Four infectious disease doctors, two nurses per patient and sub-specialists will all take care of the two patients.
Pentagon spokesman RADM John Kirby announced Friday afternoon that Ebola patients being flown from Africa to the U.S. will land at Dobbins Air Force Reserve Base in Marietta. He stressed the patients will NOT be flying U.S. military aircraft.
According to DOD officials, the State Department asked the Pentagon for a secure air base on which to land in the Atlanta area. .
Emory 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.
The unit is on the ground floor of Emory University Hospital in the General Clinical Research Center. Emory's facility of only one of four of its type in the nation.
The hospital's 3-bed isolation unit features the highest standards in negative pressure air handling safeguards, Ribner said. The unit's air is high efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filtered before being exhausted outsdie the hospital, so there is no recirculation, and no one outside the facility is placed at risk.
"When this unit was being built, we hoped we'd never have to use the space to treat a serious communicable disease," said Ribner, also associate professor of medicine. "However, we realize that with the numerous research laboratories and epidemiology field personnel the CDC has in Atlanta, we'll probably use this unit several times a year."
A medical transport plane departed the U.S. Thursday afternoon, headed to Liberia to pick up an American Ebola patient.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director Dr. Thomas Frieden said he doubted Ebola could spread in the United States. "That is not in the cards," he told reporters Thursday.
State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said the federal government was helping organize any needed evacuations.
"The State department, together with the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention, which has the lead for the U.S. government in the Ebola situation, is working to facilitate access to aviation services for medical evacuations for U.S. citizens directly affected by the current Ebola outbreak in West Africa," Harf told NBC News.
"If and when that happens...every precaution will be taken to move the patients safety and securely to provide critical care en route and to maintain strict isolation upon arrival in the United States," she added.
"The State Department office of medical services has deployed its chief of infectious disease to West Africa in order to provide on the ground consultation and guidance to health unit staff regarding protective measures and case recognition. "