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2 Ebola victims to be treated at Atlanta hospital

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David Goldman / AP

Dr. Bruce Ribner, the Emory University Hospital epidemiologist who oversees the isolation unit at the hospital set up to treat patients exposed to certain infectious diseases, speaks at a news conference, Friday, Aug. 1, 2014, in Atlanta. Ribner said Friday two American aid workers infected with the Ebola virus in Africa will be treated at the hospital.

Updated Friday, Aug. 1, 2014 | 2:16 p.m.

NEW YORK — Two American aid workers seriously ill with Ebola will be brought from West Africa to Atlanta next week for treatment in one of the most tightly sealed isolation units in the country, officials said Friday.

One is to arrive Monday in a small private jet outfitted with a special, portable tent designed for transporting patients with highly infectious diseases. The second is to arrive a few days later, said doctors at Atlanta's Emory University Hospital, where they will be treated.

It will be the first time anyone infected with the disease is brought into the country.

The private aircraft based in Atlanta was dispatched to Liberia where the two Americans — Dr. Kent Brantly and Nancy Writebol — worked for U.S. missionary groups. The State Department and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are assisting the groups in the transfer.

"The safety and security of U.S. citizens is our paramount concern," said the State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf, in a statement released Friday morning.

A Department of Defense spokesman said Dobbins Air Reserve Base in Marietta, Georgia, will be used for the aircraft.

The government is working to ensure that any Ebola-related evacuations "are carried out safely, thereby protecting the patient and the American public," the State Department's Harf said.

Ebola is not spread in the air, but only through direct contact with blood or other bodily fluids from an infected person.

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.

Brantly and Writebol are 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 evacuation and medical care.

An Emory emergency medical team arrived in Liberia on the chartered jet and evaluated the patients, and deemed both stable enough for the trip to Atlanta, said Emory's Dr. Bruce Ribner.

Brantly, who works for Samaritan's Purse, was treating Ebola patients at a Liberia hospital. Writebol also worked there for another U.S. mission group called SIM.

The Emory isolation unit has two beds, a hospital spokeswoman said. It opened 12 years ago and was designed to handle CDC workers if they became infected while working on a dangerous, infectious germ.

It is one of about four such units around the country for testing and treating people who may have been exposed to very dangerous viruses, said Dr. Eileen Farnon, a Temple University doctor who formerly worked at the CDC and led teams investigating past Ebola outbreaks in Africa.

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.

Health experts say a specialized isolation unit is not necessary for treating an Ebola patient. The virus does not spread through the air, so standard, rigorous infections control measures should work.

The current outbreak in the West African countries of Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone has sickened more than 1,300 people and more than 700 have died.

Medical Writer Marilynn Marchione in Milwaukee, National Security Writer Robert Burns in Washington and Johnny Clark in Atlanta contributed to this report.

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