Emory University Hospital in Atlanta said Thursday it was preparing a special isolation unit to receive a patient with Ebola disease “within the next several days”.
“We do not know at this time when the patient will arrive,” Emory said in a statement. The university also did not say whether the patient was one of two Americans battling Ebola infection in Liberia – charity workers Nancy Writebol and Dr. Kent Brantly.
“Emory University Hospital 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 hospital said. “It is physically separate from other patient areas and has unique equipment and infrastructure that provide an extraordinarily high level of clinical isolation. It is one of only four such facilities in the country."
Experts say isolating patients with Ebola is important. The disease is not terribly contagious, but it can spread via bodily fluids and healthcare workers are at special risk. They must wear layers of protective equipment including boots, gloves, a full body suit and face and eye protection.
“Emory University Hospital physicians, nurses and staff are highly trained in the specific and unique protocols and procedures necessary to treat and care for this type of patient. For this specially trained staff, these procedures are practiced on a regular basis throughout the year so we are fully prepared for this type of situation."
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."
The State Department says such evacuations have been done before.
"This would be done through non-commercial air travel in very controlled steps," another spokesman added. "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."