By David Beasley
ATLANTA (Reuters) - The first of two American aid workers infected with the deadly Ebola virus while in Liberia is set to arrive in the United States on Saturday to begin treatment in isolation at an Atlanta hospital, officials said.
A plane equipped to transport Dr. Kent Brantly and missionary Nancy Writebol back to the country can carry only one patient back at a time and it was unclear early on Saturday which of the two would be arriving first.
"We have learned that we will be receiving a patient with Ebola at Emory University Hospital on Saturday," Holly Korschun, spokeswoman for the facility where they will be treated, said late on Friday. "The second patient was going to follow in the next few days," she added.
Despite alarm by some in the United States over the transport, health officials have said bringing the sickened aid workers into the country would not put the American public at risk.
The patients were helping respond to the worst West African Ebola outbreak on record with the North Carolina-based Christian organization Samaritan's Purse and missionary group SIM USA when they contracted the disease. Since February, more than 700 people in the region have died from the infection.
The facility at Emory, set up with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is one of only four in the country and is physically separate from other patient areas, providing a high level of clinical isolation.
"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, told a news conference on Friday.
Ribner said he hoped the medical support available at Emory could improve the chances of survival from that seen on the ground in West Africa.
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, a 33-year-old father of two young children, and Writebol, a 59-year-old mother of two, will each arrive at Dobbins Air Reserve Base outside Atlanta before being transported to Emory, officials at the Pentagon and the hospital said.
The two will be treated primarily by a team of four infectious disease physicians. The workers will be able to see loved ones through a plate glass window and speak to those outside their rooms by phone or intercom.
Samaritan's Purse and SIM said they were sending 60 healthy U.S. staff and family members home from Liberia by this weekend as well.
(Additional reporting by Colleen Jenkins in Winston-Salem, N.C., Missy Ryan and Mark Felsenthal in Washington, Barbara Goldberg, Edith Honan, and Scott Malone in Boston; Writing by Curtis Skinner Editing by Matt Driskill)