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Ebola Patient to Be Flown to U.S. for Treatment

Unnamed individual will be cared for in specially designed isolation unit, Atlanta hospital says

WebMD News from HealthDay

By Dennis Thompson and E.J. Mundell

HealthDay Reporters

FRIDAY, Aug. 1, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- An American who is battling the Ebola virus in West Africa will be flown to the United States for treatment over the next few days, according to staff at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta.

The name of the patient is not yet being released, but there are two known American patients currently fighting Ebola in medical centers in Monrovia, Liberia: Dr. Kent Brantly, 33, and Nancy Writebol, 59. Both had been working at clinics in Liberia, helping victims of an outbreak that the World Health Organization says has already killed at least 729 people.

Both patients are described as being in stable but grave condition.

According to NBC News, Emory said Thursday that it was preparing a special isolation ward to receive the Ebola patient "within the next several days."

A plane rigged with special equipment designed to contain the virus and care for the patient during flight will carry the individual to Atlanta, with help from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, NBC News reported.

A State Department spokesman told the news network that, "The CDC has devised plans and equipment to do it safely. Patients were evacuated in similar ways during the SARS outbreak in 2003 and in cases involving drug-resistant tuberculosis in 2007."

According to Emory, the patient will be cared for in a special isolation unit with ""equipment and infrastructure that provide an extraordinarily high level of clinical isolation." The hospital told NBC that its staff is regularly trained "in the specific and unique protocols and procedures necessary to treat and care for this type of patient."

There's no cure or vaccine for Ebola, which wreaks life-threatening havoc on the body by attacking multiple organ systems simultaneously.

Instead, doctors must fall back on the basics of "good, meticulous intensive care," supporting the patient and targeting treatment toward organs that are under attack, explained Dr. Lee Norman, chief medical officer for the University of Kansas Hospital and an expert on the disease.

"You treat the things that are failing," Norman said. "If a person is dehydrated, you treat them with IV fluid support. If a person has respiratory failure, you put them on a ventilator."

As the disease progresses, the impact in terms of illness is "additive," Norman noted. "Every time you add another organ system that's failing, a person's chance of survival goes down exponentially."

The human body responds to this multiple-pronged attack by initiating a massive and intense inflammatory response -- which actually adds to the damage being done, Hirsch noted.

"It's a combination of the viral destruction and the inflammation that takes place in response that's so life-threatening to us," he said.

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